Video surfaces of Canadian hostages
Al-Qaida affiliate Abu Sayyaf calls for Philippines government to cease fire
Surrounded by masked gunmen who appear to belong to the militant Islamist group Abu Sayyaf, the hostages take turns speaking to the camera.
“Please, please help us,” one of them pleads.
“Please meet their demands or else we’ll be possibly dead,” says another.
The two-minute video posted online Tuesday shows the first images of the four hostages, including two Canadians, since their abduction three weeks ago from a luxury marina in the southern Philippines.
The video does not contain explicit ransom demands. Instead, one of the masked fighters urges Philippine authorities to cease military assaults “against us.”
“Once you meet our requirements, then we can talk about negotiation and demand,” he says.
About 11 gunmen stormed the Holiday Ocean View Samal Resort off the southern coast of Mindanao on Sept. 21. They captured John Ridsdel, 68, a semi-retired former mining executive; fellow Canadian Robert Hall, 50; Hall’s Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor; and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, the resort’s manager.
In the video, the hostages are seated on the ground and surrounded by about a dozen armed men clad in military garb. One man not wearing a mask is gripping Ridsdel’s head with one hand and a machete with the other.
Black and white flags resembling those used by ISIL appear to hang from trees in the background.
“To my family and friends, I’m OK, but I’m in grave danger,” Hall says. “I encourage you, please, to contact the Canadian government and ... plead with them to co-operate with the Philippine government to stop the bombings and the problems that are going on here.”
Ridsdel urges the Canadian and Philippine governments to “help us by stopping all the operations that have been going on, like artillery fire which came near us ... Please stop all of these operations so that negotiations can start about their demands.”
Christian Leuprecht, a security expert at Queen’s University and Royal Military College of Canada, says the video is a form of bait: “Put it out there and see what reaction you get.”
The group, Leuprecht said, is trying to create a sense of urgency by referring to artillery fire in the area. The message is, “if you want your hostages back alive and unharmed, get moving because this is a live-fire zone.”
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, said Canada was “pursuing all appropriate channels to seek further information.” Releasing more information “may compromise ongoing efforts and risk endangering the safety of Canadian citizens abroad.”
Canada’s footprint in the Philippines is small, so Canadian officials are likely working closely with Philippine authorities to contact the hostage-takers, perhaps through an intermediary, Leuprecht said.
“These are difficult situations. In a sovereign country, Canadian authorities have little leeway to act autonomously,” he said. “There is a sense of urgency since this group has killed foreigners before.”
Shirley Anthony, spokeswoman for Calgary-based mining firm, TVI Pacific Inc., where Ridsdel serves as a consultant, said the company was “doing all it can to secure John’s release and help his family through this difficult time.”
Formed in the early 1990s with funding from al- Qaida, Abu Sayyaf is a collection of autonomous gangs spread across the jungles of the Sulu Archipelago with poor communications and no centralized leadership, said Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asian security expert at National War College in Washington, D.C.
If you want your hostages back alive and unharmed, get moving because this is a live-fire zone.
Sometimes, the group goes after sectarian targets, such as Catholic priests or missionaries. Other times, it will kidnap people purely for monetary reasons, Abuza said.
About a year ago, a German couple was released after being held for six months. The group threatened to kill the hostages unless a ransom was paid and Germany withdrew its support for the U.S.led fight against ISIL.
Canada listed Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist group in 2003.
While the group wants to establish an Islamic state in the south Philippines, it “primarily uses terrorism for profit: kidnap-for-ransom, guerrilla warfare, masscasualty bombings, and beheadings are particularly favoured tactics,” according to the Public Safety Canada website.
Leuprecht said he hopes the fact that Canada is now going outside its borders to prosecute individuals suspected in certain transnational crimes — the RCMP charged a Somali national earlier this year in connection with the 2008 kidnapping of journalist Amanda Lindhout near Mogadishu — will cause some militants to think twice in future about kidnapping.
“Kidnappers of Canadians must now be concerned that they may one day have to face justice, which will hopefully act as a deterrent.”
Two Canadians kidnapped in the southern Philippines three weeks ago have surfaced in a video with what appear to be Abu Sayyaf gunmen who demand a halt to military operations against them before negotiations can begin. In the video the hostages identify themselves as Robert Hall, 50, left, and John Ridsdel, 68, who were abducted Sept. 21 from a marina on Samal Island along with Hall’s Filipina girlfriend and a Norwegian national.