MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Suspected Muslim militants have posted a video purportedly showing for the first time two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipino who were abducted from a southern Philippine resort last month and demanded that government forces stop their artillery attacks.
Army Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado said Wednesday that the military would reject any demands from the militants. Two government counterterrorism experts who examined the video separately concluded that hostages shown in it were the three foreign men and a Filipino woman seized from a marina on the island of Samal. They said the military and police were assessing details in the video to try to identify the kidnappers and determine their location.
The video was circulated online and by the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi websites. It shows the hostages sitting in a grassy clearing with a dozen mostly masked gunmen standing behind them. Two black flags hang in the backdrop of lush foliage.
The three foreign hostages, speaking at gunpoint, urged the Canadian and Philippine governments to stop the military assaults, particularly artillery fire, which one captive said had hit close to them. One of the hostages, who identified himself as John Ridsdel, spoke as a long-haired militant held his head and aimed a machete on him.
"We beseech the Canadian government to please, please help us and the Philippine government ... by stopping all of the operations that have been going on, like artillery fire which came near us," Ridsdel said.
One of the masked gunmen read a statement saying they would negotiate with the Canadian and Philippine governments and would issue their demands once the military assaults stopped. The gunmen then erupted in yells of Allahu akbar, or God is great.
Arrojado, who has been leading months of offensives against Abu Sayyaf militants in Sulu, a predominantly Muslim province about 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila, said the assaults would not stop.
"Our mandate is to go after the enemies of the state," Arrojado said by phone.
The kidnappers did not identify themselves, but Philippine authorities suspect Abu Sayyaf militants are behind the abductions because they have a history of kidnappings and such video postings. They usually seek large ransoms from governments and relatives of their hostages.
The two government experts said intelligence received by the military and police indicated the involvement of an Abu Sayyaf commander, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, in the Samal kidnappings. Sawadjaan, who is based in the mountains of Sulu's Patikul town, was also implicated in the kidnappings of two German tourists last year. Sawadjaan's group posted a video of the Germans, who were later freed, reportedly in exchange for a large ransom.
The two experts, one from the army and the other with an anti-terror agency, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Ridsdel and fellow Canadian Robert Hall; a Norwegian man, Kjartan Sekkingstad; and Filipino Tess Flor were abducted last month by gunmen from a yacht-berthing resort on Samal Island in southern Davao del Norte province.
The video was the first indication that they were still alive. "The positive thing that we derived from this video is that the kidnap victims are in good health," military spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla told reporters.
Following the Sept. 21 kidnappings, Philippine authorities vowed to strengthen security in the south. But three weeks later, gunmen abducted a former Italian Catholic missionary from his pizza restaurant in southern Zamboanga Sibugay province.
The abductions highlight the long-running security problems that have hounded the southern Philippines, a region with bountiful resources, but which also suffers from poverty, lawlessness and decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies.
Associated Press writer Oliver Teves in Manila contributed to this report.