Video sur­faces of Cana­dian hostages

Al-Qaida af­fil­i­ate Abu Sayyaf calls for Philip­pines gov­ern­ment to cease fire

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - DOU­GLAS QUAN

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.”

YOUTUBE

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.

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