TORONTO/MANILA (Reuters) - Canadian hostage Robert Hall is believed to have been killed by his captors in the Philippines, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday, in what appears to be the second execution of a Canadian hostage by the militant group Abu Sayyaf in the area in recent months.
Trudeau said Canadian officials were working with authorities in the Philippines to confirm the death of Hall, who was taken captive with three other people by the militants in September 2015 from an upscale resort on Samal island, hundreds of miles east of Jolo.
In the Philippines, a military spokesman said a severed head had been found near a Catholic cathedral on a remote southern island late on Monday. It appeared to be that of a Caucasian, the spokesman said, but no identification had been made yet.
Major Filemon Tan, spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command of the Philippines military, said in a statement on Tuesday the discovery appeared to confirm the killing of a kidnap victim by Abu Sayyaf.
Trudeau said in an earlier statement there was "reason to believe" that Abu Sayyaf had executed Hall. Hours later, he told reporters that "Canada holds the terrorist group who took Mr. Hall hostage fully responsible for this cold-blooded and senseless murder."
The prime minister said the Sunday attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando and the killing of Hall "serve as devastating reminders for all of us, the vicious acts of hatred and violence cannot be tolerated in any form."
Abu Sayyaf, based in the south of the mainly Catholic country, is known for kidnapping, beheadings and extortion.
It initially demanded one billion pesos ($21.7 million) each for the detainees, but it lowered the ransom to 300 million pesos each early this year. The group executed Canadian John Ridsdel, a former mining executive, in April.
A Norwegian man and a Filipino woman are still held captive.
Philippine security forces were checking intelligence reports that al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants executed Hall on the remote southern Philippine island of Jolo.
Preliminary intelligence reports said he was beheaded 10 minutes after the 3 p.m. deadline in the mountains outside the island's Patikul town.
Abu Raami, spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf Group, confirmed the beheading in a telephone call to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper. The report could not be independently verified.
Wilfredo Cayat, police chief of Jolo island, said officials were checking reports that said Hall was beheaded in Mount Bunga by Ben Yadah, an Islamist militant holding four captives - three foreigners and a Filipino - since September 2015.
"We don't know if this is true because we know there are ongoing negotiations for their release," he told reporters.
Security is precarious in the southern Philippines despite a 2014 peace pact between the government and the largest Muslim rebel group that ended 45 years of conflict.
(Reporting by Allison Martell in TORONTO and Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by W Simon and Paul Tait)