Canada PM denounces beheading of hostage

CANADIAN Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced Monday the beheading of a Canadian hostage by the Abu Sayyaf Group in Mindanao and vowed to work with the Philippines and international allies to bring his killers to justice.

"I'm outraged by the news that a Canadian citizen, John Ridsdel, held hostage in the Philippines since Sept. 21, 2015, has been killed at the hands of his captors," Trudeau said.

"This was an act of cold-blooded murder and responsibility rests with the terrorist group who took him hostage."

The US and British embassies on Tuesday issued travel warnings to their citizens, urging them to avoid traveling to Mindanao following the Ridsdel's beheading.

CANADIAN Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The UK alerted its citizens of the "high threat" of kidnappings and terrorism throughout the Philippines, saying terrorist groups continue to plan attacks and have the capacity and the intent to carry out these attacks at "any time and anywhere in the country."

Ridsdel, fellow Canadian tourist Robert Hall, Hall's Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor, and Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad were kidnapped seven months ago from yachts at a marina on Samal Island, more than 500 kilometers from Jolo, where Ridsdel's head was found.

Six weeks after the abduction, gunmen from the Abu Sayyaf Group released a video on social media of their hostages held in a jungle setting, demanding the equivalent of $21 million each for the safe release of the three foreigners.

The men were forced to beg for their lives on camera, and similar videos posted over several months showed the hostages looking increasingly frail.

In the most recent video, Ridsdel, a retiree, said his captors would kill him on April 25 if a ransom of $6.4 million were not paid.

Hours after the deadline passed, police in the Philippines said two people on a motorbike dropped the head near city hall in the town of Jolo, a mostly lawless island around 1,000 kilometers south of Manila that is one of the Abu Sayyaf group's main strongholds.

"We found a head in a plastic bag," provincial police chief Wilfredo Cayat said.

He said the head belonged to a white man, but emphasized it was impossible to immediately identify. The local police chief issued a report to journalists with similar details.

Trudeau said Canada was working with the Philippines to pursue and prosecute Ridsdel's killers, and that efforts were underway to obtain the release of the other hostages.

Canadian opposition parties also expressed outrage over the killing.

Ridsdel was a former journalist, oil executive and sailing enthusiast who moved to the Philippines to manage a gold mine before retiring.

The Abu Sayyaf is also believed to be holding a Dutch bird-watcher kidnapped in 2012, and has been blamed for abducting 18 Indonesian and Malaysian sailors from tugboats near the southern Philippines over the past month.

The Abu Sayyaf is a small group of Islamic militants listed by the United States as a terrorist organization that operates from Jolo and nearby islands.

The group is blamed for the nation's worst terror attacks, including the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that killed more than 100 people, as well as the kidnappings of dozens of foreigners in the southern Philippines and across to Malaysian Borneo.

The Abu Sayyaf's leaders have recently declared allegiance to the Islamic State.

However, analysts say the Abu Sayyaf is mainly focused on lucrative kidnappings for ransom, rather than waging an ideological war or creating a violent Islamic caliphate.

The United States deployed special forces advisers to provide training and intelligence to Filipino troops from 2002 to 2014, which led to the killing or arrest of many Abu Sayyaf leaders.

After the US forces pulled out, however, the Abu Sayyaf launched a series of increasingly bold kidnapping raids, as well as deadly battles with Filipino troops that show it remains a major threat in the south.

The recent kidnapping spree prompted Indonesian Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan to warn the region was in danger of becoming a "new Somalia," referring to pirates operating from the African country who have bedeviled international shipping in nearby waters.

In Manila, Philippine National Police chief Ricardo Marquez and Armed Forces public affairs chief Col. Noel Detoyato confirmed that Ridsdel had been beheaded.

The government expressed its sympathy and condolences to the Canadian government and to Ridsdel's family.

"There will be no let up in the determined efforts of the joint AFP-PNP task groups intensive military and law enforcement operations to neutralize these lawless elements and thwart further threats to peace and security. The full force of the law will be used to bring these criminals to justice," the military and police in a joint statement said.

Ridsdel's body has not yet been located.

The Palace said it was in "constant communication" with the Canadian foreign ministry.

"[Foreign Affairs Secretary Rene] Almendras has been in constant touch with the Canadian foreign ministry and its embassy since last week," Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said when asked if President Benigno Aquino III had contacted Trudeau."The President has directed the security forces to apply the full force of the law to bring these criminals to justice," Coloma said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs condemned the beheading as "inhuman."

Days before Ridsdel death, massive military operations were launched to pressure the ASG bandits into freeing their captives.

Detoyato said the military and police operations have been "progressing," but declined to say any more to protect the safety of the remaining hostages.

Ridsdel was beheaded after 3 p.m. Monday somewhere in Patikul town, when acting Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda was in Sulu to direct rescue operations.

At about 7:45 p.m., Sulu provincial police confirmed Ridsdel's death.

In Camp Aguinaldo, Detoyato said "focused military operations" were ongoing.

"[There] are still the remaining kidnap victims. Our ground troops know that, and for their safety, they are already included in the planning and execution," he said.

Detoyato discouraged third parties from paying the ransom for the hostages, saying this would only strengthen the terrorists.

Senators also joined in condemning the beheading.

Presidential candidate Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago warned that the Philippines is reneging on its obligations under the Rome Statute by failing to bring to justice the Abu Sayyaf Group for war crimes.

Santiago, an elected judge of the International Criminal Court, said the Philippines, as state party to the Rome Statute, affirmed that "the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished and that their effective prosecution must be ensured."

"I denounce the killing of John Ridsdel, one of the four hostages taken by the Abu Sayyaf Group in September 2015. This reprehensible act is considered a 'war crime' under international criminal law, and we are obliged to exert the full force of the law to bring the perpetrators to justice," the senator said.

Another presidential candidate, Senator Grace Poe, said it was important that military operations be coupled with greater efforts to develop the economy in Mindanao.

Senator Ralph Recto said the next president should hit the ground running and go after the notorious group.

"They are the most violent criminal syndicate in the country today. Their barbarity actually lands them among Asia's most brutal. We have a regional obligation to stamp them out and wipe clean this blot on our national image," said Recto, a re-electionist.

Presidential candidate Vice President Jejomar Binay also condemned Ridsdel's execution.

"This barbaric incident should also remind us that as we take decisive action against criminal and bandit groups, we should address the lingering problem of poverty, which has nurtured unrest, disunity and criminality, especially in Mindanao," he said.

Source: The Standard

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