Canadians kidnapped in the Philippines: Here’s what you need to know

Why two Canadians were kidnapped from a resort area in the southern Philippines Monday, and by whom, is still unknown. But the area of the Philippines where the abduction took place has a long history of armed violence.

What we know about the kidnapping

Unidentified gunmen have abducted twoCanadians, including John Ridsdel, from asouthern Philippine island. LinkedIn

The two Canadians are John Ridsdel, a former senior vice president and chief operating officer for Calgary-based mining company TVI Pacific, and Robert Hall, reported to be a geologist.

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It was after 11 p.m. Monday that at least 11 armed men are reported to have arrived by boat to the marina at the Holiday Ocean View Samal Resort on Samal Island, where Ridsdel, Hall and Teresita Flor, said to be Hall’s wife or girlfriend, were staying on a yacht. Samal Island is located off Davao, the largest city on Mindanao — the second largest island of the archipelago nation.

The Canadian Press

The kidnappers also abducted Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, the 56-year-old operations manager of the marina, who reportedly came to investigate the commotion at the scene. Sekkingstad once lived in Vancouver before eventually moving to Samal Island.

The assailants also attempted to kidnap American Steven Tripp and his Japanese wife, Kazuko Shibata-Tripp, from another vessel docked at the marina, but the couple was able to escape from one of the kidnappers’ boats, as they made their escape. They were taken to a hospital to be treated for minor injuries.

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There about 30 people reported to be staying at the marina when the kidnapping took place.

A man walks inside the compound of Holiday Ocean View Samal Resort, on Samal Island in southern Philippines Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, a day after unidentified gunmen abducted a Norwegian resort manager, two Canadians and a Filipino woman from this southern Philippine island, the military and police said. Manuel Cayon/AP Photo

Is it dangerous for Canadians to travel to Mindanao?

The Canadian government advises against travel to several parts of Mindanao “due to the serious threat of terrorist attacks and kidnapping.”

The Canadian government specifically warns against travel to the “Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.”

There is also a warning for the Zamboanga Peninsula. TVI Pacific has several operations on the Zamboanga Peninsula, on the western end of Mindanao, and that’s where Ridsdel was reportedly still working for the company as a consultant.

While the city of Davao has remained relatively safe compared to other parts of the region, the Canadian government has travel warnings for the provinces of Davao del Sur and Davao Del Norte, where Samal Island is located just a 10-minute ferry ride away from the mainland.

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The area around Davao, however, has “been relatively peaceful, since a 2014 agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” ABS-CBN reported.

This photo taken on March 27, 2014 shows Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels attending a rally in support of the peace agreement with the government inside Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town, on southern island of Mindanao. Ted Aljibe (AFP)/Getty Images

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (CanCham), of which Ridsdel is listed as a member of the board of trustees, recently held a forum on safety and security for foreign investors in Mindanao.

CanCham, in promoting the Sept. 14 event in Davao City, noted the “evolving safety and security situation in Mindanao” has become “a factor to consider establishing new business” in the area.

Who are the militant and terrorist groups operating in Mindanao?

While it’s not yet known who carried out the kidnapping, CNN Philippines reported the suspects left a note that read “Katarungan ng aming commander” (Justice for our commander) and that it was attributed to the New People’s Army (NPA) — an armed group linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines and a group that “claimed responsibility for 30 percent of deaths from terrorist related incidents [in the Philippines] in 2013.”
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CNN Philippines cited Philippines National Police regional Senior Supt. Aaron Aquino saying the message may be “a diversionary tactic to mislead investigators.”

But the NPA is by no means the only armed group active in the area where Ridsdel, Hall and the others were kidnapped and it’s not the first time tourists on Samal Island have been targeted.

In 2001, the group Abu Sayyaf made a failed attempt to kidnap a group of foreigners from Pearl Farm on Samal Island in 2001.

Abu Sayyaf had ties to al Qaeda but purportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS earlier this year.

Davao del Norte Provincial Police Senior Supt. Samuel Gadingan told CNN Philippines it’s possible the kidnappers may not be connected to Abu Sayyaf, based on the types of guns the kidnappers were carrying, but a special investigation group known as “Oceanview” was not dismissing the possibility.

After news of the kidnapping emerged, it was reported coast guard and military elements were deployed to Samal Island in an effort to prevent the kidnappers from trying to head to Basilan, an island to the south of Zamboanga and a part of a chain of smaller islands that stretches south to Malaysia.

Basilan is also a part of the envisioned Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of mainland Mindanao and said to be an Abu Sayyaf stronghold.

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Map of Mindanao showing the locations of Samal Island and Basilan.
Map of Mindanao showing the locations of Samal Island and Basilan. Google Maps/ screen grab

It’s also been implied a group known as the Bangsamoro Army, which is a “breakaway” group made up of former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front, could be involved in the kidnapping, according to GMA News.

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