An image released of the reported hostages
Abu Sayyaf gunmen released a video Tuesday threatening to kill four hostages, including two Canadians, kidnapped in the southern Philippines six weeks ago unless it received a ransom of more than $100-million.
The 90-second clip obtained by the SITE Intelligence Group showed black-clad men standing over Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, as well Hall’s Filipino girlfriend Marites Flor and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad.
“We’re being ransomed for each for one billion pesos,” Ridsdel said as a man held a machete above his neck. “I appeal to the Canadian Prime Minister and the people of Canada, please pay this ransom as soon as possible or our lives are in great danger.”
Hall made a similar plea to the camera. “I’m a Canadian citizen. I’m being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf for 1-billion pesos,” he said. “These people are serious and very treacherous. Take them seriously. Help us, get us out of here.”
But Prof. Zachary Abuza, a National War College expert on southeast Asian politics and security, said there was no evidence Abu Sayyaf was truly affiliated with ISIL. Rather, they are a gang that uses the imagery of terrorism to profit from kidnapping.
“I think these guys are common thugs, there’s nothing Islamist about it,” Prof. Abuza said. Abu Sayyaf’s recent pledge of allegiance to ISIL was nothing more than an attempt to gain international media attention and “raise the ante,” he said.
He believes Abu Sayyaf has been watching ISIL videos in order to mimic them. “They’ve been online, they’ve seen things, they’ve stepped up their game,” he said.
But while the video had the look of one by ISIL, the demands were tellingly focused solely on money rather than Western foreign policy or military deployments. A billion Philippine pesos is about CDN$28-million.
The hostages will be an early challenge for incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau and his Cabinet appointees in the public safety and foreign affairs portfolios. No deadline was provided in the video for the demand to be met.
It was the second video released by the kidnappers since they abducted the four from a marina on Salam Island on Sept. 21. On Oct. 12, a similarly-staged video demanded that the Filipino military stopped shelling Abu Sayyaf territory.
“Canadian officials are in close contact with Filipino authorities and have been pursuing all appropriate channels to seek further information,” Nicolas Doire, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman, said following the release of the video.
He said the department would not comment further or release additional information “which may compromise ongoing efforts and risks endangering the safety of Canadian citizens abroad.”
The Abu Sayyaf group is on Canada’s list of terrorist entities. The Public Safety Canada profile of Abu Sayyaf says that despite its stated armed Islamist objectives, it primarily uses terrorism for profit, and kidnap-for-ransom was among its “particularly favored tactics.”