Philippine security forces found bloodstains at the coastal home where suspected Muslim militants barged in and dragged an Australian man away in the latest of a rash of abductions in the restive south, officials said Tuesday.
Police said Warren Richard Rodwell, 53, may have been injured when at least half a dozen gunmen took him away late Monday in a sparsely populated village with no guards less than 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the shore in Ipil town in Zamboanga Sibugay province.
"There were some workers doing some paint job in the house, but had already gone when the gunmen arrived," regional police chief Elpidio de Asis told The Associated Press by phone.
Military and police forces were searching nearby hills, apparently hoping to prevent the abductors from taking the hostage by boat to neighboring islands where they usually hide and negotiate for ransom.
In the Australian capital of Canberra, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Tuesday that her government had established a task force to investigate the kidnapping. Such task forces typically include trained hostage negotiators.
Gillard said the Australian Embassy in Manila was working with local authorities to establish the facts.
There is a high possibility that the notorious al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group is behind the abduction, said de Asis. He said that Rodwell was kidnapped in the same Ipil area where the militants snatched a Filipino businesswoman in September and took her by boat to their jungle stronghold on nearby Basilan Island. She was wounded in a rescue operation two weeks later.
Desperate for funds, the militants have resorted to kidnappings, targeting people who struggle to pay ransom. Last year the group carried out at least 11 kidnappings and raised about $704,000 in ransom, according to a confidential government report seen by The Associated Press in February. They killed at least six hostages whose families failed to pay for their release, the report said.
Zamboanga Sibugay province was the scene of heavy fighting in October when government troops overran a camp of Muslim rebels and outlaws, sending the main group of 100 gunmen fleeing.
The violence is linked to a decades-old Muslim rebellion for self-rule in the southern Mindanao region, homeland of minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.
A cease-fire with the main rebel group has held since 2008 despite recent clashes. Other groups, including the Abu Sayyaf, have staged their own attacks and ransom kidnappings.
They are believed to be holding several other hostages, including an American teenager kidnapped in July. His Filipino-American mother was released in October.
Police said Rodwell made several trips to the Philippines over the last two years and was staying in Ipil after getting married in June to a Filipino mother whom he met via the Internet.
According to a webpage on Myspace.com, where the man's photograph matches that of Rodwell as provided by Philippine police, Rodwell described himself as "an expatriate English-native-speaker ... living in Asia for most of this 21st century."
He wrote that he had been teaching at a university in China and had written and edited "hardcopy magazines" and traveled throughout the world.
Associated Press writers Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.
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