Suspected Muslim militants have demanded ransom for the freedom of a kidnapped Australian and have sent proof that he is alive, Philippine police said Sunday.
The kidnappers mailed four pictures of 53-year-old Warren Richard Rodwell before Christmas to his Filipino wife then called her to demand an initial ransom of $23,000 (1 million pesos). Rodwell appeared to have been wounded in the hand by gunfire in one picture but looked well, police Senior Superintendent Ruben Cariaga said.
Rodwell, a former university teacher in Shanghai, was taken at gunpoint by about six men on Dec. 5 in southern Ipil town in Zamboanga Sibugay province. It was the latest abduction of a foreigner in the country's volatile south where several kidnappings for ransom have been blamed on the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group.
No group has claimed responsibility for Rodwell's kidnapping, but officials suspect the Abu Sayyaf and its allied gunmen may have been responsible.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said that her government had established a task force to investigate the kidnapping.
Rodwell married his wife, whom he met via the Internet, in June, police said.
Cariaga said Rodwell's wife told him there was no way she could raise the ransom, "She told me she could not pay because she even finds it hard to raise money to feed herself," he said.
Government troops and police have been searching for Rodwell in the Zamboanga Peninsula and nearby Basilan island, where the Abu Sayyaf is active.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a large Muslim rebel group engaged in peace talks with the government, said Sunday it would intensify efforts to help secure Rodwell's freedom in coordination with authorities. The rebel group did not provide other details.
The rebels said they have heard about the ransom demand for Rodwell's and his mailed pictures. Cariaga, who heads the Zamboanga Sibugay provincial police, welcomed the rebels' effort to help solve the kidnapping.
The rebels have an agreement with the government that allows them to help capture Muslim extremists and outlaws, who venture near their strongholds.
A cease-fire between troops and the Moro rebels have held since 2008 but occasional clashes have flared. Military planes bombed a hilly stronghold of a Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander in October after authorities accused him and other gunmen of kidnapping, extortion and other acts of banditry.