Where are Samal hostages? Military verifying
The military on Sunday said it was verifying reports the three Westerners and a Filipino woman who were abducted from Samal Island in Davao last week had been taken to Sulu.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said Sunday the reports remained unconfirmed, although it reported on Saturday the recovery in Jolo, Sulu, of a boat suspected to have been used by the kidnappers.
“There is still no confirmation to the information (that the victims were taken to Sulu), but that is being continuously validated,” said Col. Restituto Padilla, spokesman for the AFP.
In Zamboanga City, Brig. Gen. Allan Arrojado, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, said there was no basis for saying the kidnap victims had been taken to Sulu.
“Plain speculation, unless we get solid proof from reliable sources,” Arrojado told the Inquirer on Sunday.
The military does not act on information from a single source, Arrojado added.
“We need at least three to four confirmatory reports, then we start to validate,” he said.
On Saturday, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said he had received intelligence information the hostages, who were seized from the Holiday Oceanview resort hotel on Samal Island, had been taken to Sulu.
Canadian tourists John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipino Maritess Flor were seized from Oceanview late last Monday by 11 gunmen, who escaped in motorized outriggers.
“They are already in Sulu. All sources indicate and all this information were consistent that they are in Sulu,” Duterte said.
Duterte, who on Friday offered himself to the kidnappers in exchange for their captives, said he had sent a message to the abductors seeking to negotiate the release of the victims.
He also appealed to the kidnappers to be reasonable if it was a ransom that they wanted.
They should not demand too much for the release of the captives, he said.
Officials said hundreds of policemen and Army troops, backed by the Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard, were chasing the kidnappers, with the operation concentrated on the mountains of the Davao region, where sightings of the gunmen and their captives had been reported.
On Sunday, however, officials declined to say whether the operations remained in Davao or had shifted to Sulu following the recovery of a 25-meter suspected getaway boat in Jolo on Friday.
Col. Noel Detoyato, AFP public affairs office chief, declined to say where exactly the operations were going on.
“These are operational data. This might endanger our troops on the ground. Even if there is a general location, the enemy might pinpoint it,” Detoyato said.
Capt. Alberto Caber, spokesman for the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command, said reports of sightings of the kidnappers and their captives were still being verified.
Authorities were examining the boat found in Omar town, Sulu, to determine if it was the one used by the kidnappers.
Arrojado said the boat was discovered on Saturday afternoon and appeared to have been sunk on purpose.
A source from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said informers from Sulu had monitored the arrival of a “junkong,” a motorized boat without outriggers, on Saturday night.
The MNLF source, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the matter, told the Inquirer that the boat, which carried gunmen and what appeared to be hostages, landed in Talipao, Sulu.
The group, the source said, was led by a Makmud Askali, who has links to the Abu Sayyaf terror group.
It was unclear, the source said, if Askali was related to Haik Askali, alias “Abu Aswad,” a nephew of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron.
Abu Aswad was arrested by police in Jolo on Dec. 25, 2013, for his role in the kidnapping of birdwatchers Elwold Horn, a Dutch national, and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, a Swiss citizen, and their Filipino guide Ivan Sarenas in 2012.
Sarenas escaped, but the two Europeans remain in captivity.
Habib Hashim Mudjahab, chair of the MNLF’s Islamic Command Council, said former Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Jesus Dureza had asked him to help find the hostages.
Dureza is a friend of kidnap victim Ridsdel, a former executive of a mining company.
“Secretary Dureza wants us to determine if the hostages were brought to Talipao by this Commander Makmud Askali. If this is true, then this Askali, as far as we know, is an Abu Sayyaf,” Mujahab said.
Mudjahab said Talipao is near the area where fugitive MNLF leader Nur Misuari is hiding.
“If Misuari is aware of this, he can help in the peaceful release of the hostages,” Mudjahab said.