Gunmen snatch Italian in Dipolog

GUNMEN have seized an Italian restaurant owner and former priest in Mindanao, authorities said  Thursday, expressing fears he was taken to the island lair of the Abu Sayyaf group.

Six suspects, four posing as customers, kidnapped Rolando del Torchio in a swift raid that shocked the dinnertime crowd at his pizzeria in the sleepy port city of Dipolog  on Wednesday, a regional military spokesman said.

The group bundled the 56-year-old into a waiting van then sped off to Manukan town some 50 kilometers away, where they transferred to a motorboat, Capt. Roy Vincent Trinidad said.

Navy ships have been alerted to intercept the bandits after intelligence indicated the boat had navigated along the Zamboanga peninsula coastline towards the southwestern island of Jolo, some 400 kilometers away, he added.

Jolo is the main base of Al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for the Philippine’s deadliest terror attacks, beheadings and kidnappings of foreign tourists and Christian missionaries.

“All kidnappings in the peninsula end up in Jolo. That’s the pattern,” Trinidad said.

“Hostages taken in the area are eventually turned over to the Abu Sayyaf.”

The rag-tag Abu Sayyaf has engaged in frequent kidnappings of locals as well as foreigners in often successful efforts to extort ransoms.

A Filipino village chief who was seized from the same southwestern peninsula in May was found beheaded on a Jolo highway three months later after the government refused to pay.

Two other Coast Guard men who were abducted with the village official were also brought to Jolo but eventually escaped amid a hail of gunfire as the military pounded the bandits’ lair.

Wednesday’s  incident was the second abduction involving foreigners in the south in less than a month, after the military said the Abu Sayyaf is holding foreigners hostage in the Jolo jungles: a Dutch man, a Korean and two Malaysians.

Four foreigners were also abducted from a luxury island resort in Davao last month—two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina.

The Italian Embassy in Manila did not immediately return a request for comment.

Supt. Redentor Retusto, provincial police director, was tasked to head the task force to find Del Torchio and his abductors. He and Supt. Ranie Hachuela, city police chief, are spearheading the pursuit operations,

Blocking forces were immediately established in the towns of Sibuco, Sirawai, Siocon and Baliguian, known havens for kidnap gangs.

Del Torchio, who was ordained a priest in 1984, was a missionary of the Pontificio Istituto Missioni Estere.

He was assigned in 1988 in the nearby town of Sibuco and has stayed in that municipality until 1996. He moved to this city and worked with a non-government organization that provide assistance to farmers.

He left priesthood a few years later and settled in Dipolog City.

The Palace said a manhunt has been launched to find Del Torchio.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. played down suggestions that the recent kidnapping incidents in Mindanao would hurt tourism and prospective investments in the region.

“The government is continuing to work on improving the the peace and order condition in the region in order to ensure the safety of every individual, whether they be a Filipino or not,” said Coloma.

He said suggesting that tourism or investments might be affected was “an extrem scenario.”

“Again, let us place this in the proper perspective,” Coloma said. 

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