Gunmen kidnap 3 aliens at posh resort

GUNMEN have kidnapped two Canadian tourists, a Norwegian employee and a Filipina from a luxury resort in Samal Island in Davao del Norte  Monday  night, police said  Tuesday.

The suspects—about 11 men armed with long and short firearms—sailed two motorboats into a marina and seized the four from aboard yachts just before  midnight  on Monday, said Supt. Antonio Rivera, a local police spokesman.

Law enforcement boats and helicopters were scouring the waters around the island  on Tuesday  to try to stop the kidnappers from leaving the area, Rivera said.

Crime scene. A private security guard talks to a motorist outside an entrance to the Holiday Ocean View Resort on Samal Island, where gunmen have kidnapped two Canadian tourists, a Norwegian employee and a Filipina. AFP

“They appeared to target the foreigners. They went straight for the yachts,” Rivera said.

“[But] we still don’t have anything. We’re blank. No group has taken responsibility and there is no demand for ransom.”

A police report identified the Canadian tourists as John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 50. The Norwegian, Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, was the manager of the resort.

The 40-year-old Filipina, identified only as Tess, was a companion of one of the foreign tourists. Another Canadian named Steven and his Japanese wife, Kazuka, were able to jump from the kidnapper’s boat.

A woman working at the Holiday Ocean View Resort, which operates the marina, confirmed the incident but declined to comment further.

Reports said 30 more foreign tourists were at the resort at the time of the abductions.

The Canadian and Norwegian embassies in Manila declined to comment.

A Norwegian foreign ministry spokeswoman in Oslo, Lothe Salvesen, said the government was investigating the reports of the abductions, but could not confirm any details.

Samal Island, a short boat ride from the southern commercial center of Davao, is famed for powdery white sand beaches and dive spots, with resorts there charging up to $500 a night.

The area, about 800 kilometers southeast of Manila, is a popular stop for foreign tourists who sail around the nation’s many tropical islands.

But the Philippines’ southern region has endured decades of conflict, with Muslim rebels waging a separatist conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Parts of Mindanao are also home to more extreme Muslim militants, the most infamous of which are the Abu Sayyaf. They engage in frequent kidnappings of locals as well as foreigners in often successful efforts to extort ransoms.

The Abu Sayyaf is a ragtag group of several hundred men founded in the 1990s that has withstood US-backed military operations to extinguish it.

In the most recent kidnapping of foreigners, Abu Sayyaf gunmen seized a German couple in April last year while they were sailing off the far southwestern island of Palawan, a popular tourist destination.

The couple was released six months later, with the Abu Sayyaf claiming it had received all of the P250 million it demanded in ransom.

The Abu Sayyaf is currently holding nine hostages, including four foreigners, in the jungles of Jolo island in Mindanao’s southwest, a local military spokesman said  Tuesday.

But police  on Tuesday  said they were also looking into the possibility the abductors might be communist rebels, because they left a letter in the Ocean View Resort demanding the release of a New People’s Army commander held by the military.

Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad said his soldiers would lend support to the police effort to find the kidnap victims, and that they have already deployed helicopters and naval vessels to help in the pursuit operations.

The Palace said the Philippine National Police was leading the hunt for the kidnappers in coordination with the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces and other agencies of the government.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the families of the victims have been informed.

Capt. Alberto Caber, the chief of the public affairs office of the Eastern Mindanao Command, confirmed that they have a description of the abductors based on footage from closed-circuit television cameras from the Ocean View Resort.

But investigators could not say if the armed men were part of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group, who attempted to take hostages from Samal Island’s Pearl Farm in 2001.

Despite concerns that a similar incident will take place during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in November, Caber said the military has yet to detect any threats connected to the event.

Security on Samal Island, managed by Task Force Samal led by Col. Larry Mojico, the PNP, and various resort security officers, has been tightened since the incident.

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