DAVAO CITY, Philippines - Policemen and soldiers in three provinces have launched a massive land and sea search for two Canadians, a Norwegian business executive and a Filipino woman who were kidnapped from the Island Garden City of Samal in a midnight attack that alarmed Malacañang.
Using a style reminiscent of past attacks by Abu Sayyaf bandits in the conflict-racked southern islands, the gunmen seized their four targets when they broke into a marina before midnight on Saturday.
Riding in two motorized outriggers, the gunmen also tried to seize a foreign couple-the woman reportedly Japanese-from one of the yachts docked at the marina but the pair escaped by jumping off their boat, police said.
President Aquino went to the island two weeks ago to inaugurate a road network project and even visited Holiday Oceanview Marina, where the four kidnap victims had apparently been staying.
Malacañang said Aquino was closely monitoring the pursuit operations launched by the Philippine National Police, the military and other law-enforcement agencies.
Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the PNP had yet to identify the group behind the kidnapping.
Brig. Gen. Allan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu, said his group did not have any confirmation that the captors were Abu Sayyaf gunmen.
For his part, Igacos Mayor Aniano Antalan said it was possible the abductors were Abu Sayyaf men even if a group supposed to be New People's Army (NPA) rebels claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
The regional police director, Senior Supt. Samuel Gadingan, said the authorities found a piece of paper near the vicinity of Holiday Oceanview Marina supposedly left behind by the kidnappers.
"There was this note that said (the kidnapping) was in retaliation for the death of the suspects' commander. But we're still validating it," he said.
The note, scribbled in blue pentel pen, reads, in Filipino: "Justice for our commander."
Antalan said he did not believe the NPA was responsible.
"In their note they claimed they're NPA but they have no means of pulling off such kidnapping. They're also not known to use pump boats," Antalan told the Inquirer.
He said only the Abu Sayyaf was known to use speedboats.
"The PNP's antikidnapping group is … coordinating with the military's Eastern Mindanao Command and other agencies in resolving this case," Coloma said.
Police identified the kidnap victims as Canadian John Ridsdel, 68, former senior vice president for Canadian mining firm TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc. (TVIRD); Canadian Robert Hall, 60; Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, shipbuilder and manager of Holiday Oceanview Marina; and the Filipino woman identified only as Tess.
They were abducted from the Island Garden City of Samal (Igacos).
Gadingan, who has jurisdiction over Igacos, said search-and-rescue efforts were being carried out in Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Davao del Norte provinces.
The Navy and the Coast Guard were helping, he said.
Chief Supt. Wendy Rosario, the Southern Mindanao police chief, said a task force had been created to rescue the victims. He said the police were still facing a blank wall on where the victims were taken.
He said police and military units in southern Mindanao had been placed under alert.