Philippine forces find boats of gang holding foreigners

Filipino Army colonel Harold Cabreros (left) with Police colonel Federico Dulay (right) hold a sketch of an unidentified suspect believed to be one of the gunmen who abducted three foreigners and a Philippine woman, during a press conference in Davao
Filipino Army colonel Harold Cabreros (left) with Police colonel Federico Dulay (right) hold a sketch of an unidentified suspect believed to be one of the gunmen who abducted three foreigners and a Philippine woman, during a press conference in Davao city, southern Philippines, Sept 23 2015.PHOTO: EPA

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine forces searching for three kidnapped foreigners and a Philippine woman have found the getaway boats their abductors used but have yet to determine who grabbed the four from a southern resort, an army spokesman said on Wednesday.

Gunmen kidnapped two Canadian tourists, a Norwegian resort manager and a Filipino woman late on Monday at a resort on Samal island, near Davao City, the largest city on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines.

The gang escaped with their hostages in boats.

The attack was a reminder that insecurity persists in the south despite a 2014 peace agreement with the largest Muslim rebel group that ended 45 years of conflict in which about 120,000 people were killed and 2 million displaced.

Various small Islamist and communist rebel factions, as well as criminal gangs, operate in the area and authorities were still trying to determine who carried out the kidnapping. "At this point, we still could not identify any group behind the abduction," Colonel Noel Detoyato, an army spokesman, told a news briefing. "Two motorised bancas were recovered on the shores of Tibanban," he said, referring out-rigger boats found near Tibanban village, about 100 km southeast from the island where the kidnappings took place.

Troops were scouring the area and four patrol boats and four helicopters had joined the search, he said.

A note left at the resort and purportedly linking the raid to Maoist rebels was believed to have been a fake, aimed at diverting the security forces, he said.

Authorities were still investigating the possibility that members of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Islamist militant group could have been involved, he said.

Members of the group have kidnapped foreign tourists in the southern Philippines several times and they had attempted in 2001 to abduct people on Samal island, Detoyato said.

Another Philippine military source, who declined to be identified, said authorities had got wind of an Abu Sayyaf plot to kidnap people on Samal this month.

Philippine authorities have identified the abducted foreigners as John Ridsdel and Robert Hall from Canada and Kjartan Sekkingstad, the Norwegian manager of the resort. The Filipino woman, identified only as Tess, is Hall's partner.

Reuters