Philippine security forces found bloodstains at the coastal home where suspected Muslim militants barged in and dragged an Australian man away in the latest of a rash of abductions in the restive south, officials said yesterday.
Police said Warren Richard Rodwell, 53, might have been injured when at least half a dozen gunmen took him away late on Monday in a sparsely populated village with no guards less than 3km from the shore in the town of Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay province.
“There were some workers doing some paint job in the house, but had already gone when the gunmen arrived,” regional police chief Elpidio de Asis said by telephone.
Military and police forces were searching nearby hills, apparently hoping to prevent the abductors from taking the hostage by boat to neighboring islands, where they usually hide and negotiate for ransom.
In Canberra, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said yesterday that her government had established a task force to investigate the kidnapping. Such task forces typically include trained hostage negotiators.
Gillard said the Australian embassy in Manila was working with local authorities to establish the facts.
There is a high possibility that the notorious al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group was behind the abduction, de Asis said.
He said that Rodwell was kidnapped in the same Ipil area where the militants snatched a Filipino businesswoman in September and took her by boat to their jungle stronghold on nearby Basilan Island.
She was wounded in a rescue operation two weeks later.
Desperate for funds, the militants have resorted to kidnappings, targeting people who struggle to pay ransom.
Last year the group carried out at least 11 kidnappings and raised about US$704,000 in ransom, according to a confidential -government report seen by the Associated Press in February. They killed at least six hostages whose families failed to pay for their release, the report said.
Zamboanga Sibugay was the scene of heavy fighting in October when government troops overran a camp of Muslim rebels and outlaws, sending the main group of the original 100 gunmen fleeing.
The violence is linked to a -decades-old Muslim rebellion for self-rule in the southern Mindanao region, homeland of minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.
A ceasefire with the main rebel group has held since 2008 despite recent clashes. Other groups, including the Abu Sayyaf, have staged their own attacks and ransom kidnappings.
They are believed to be holding several other hostages, including a US teenager kidnapped in July. Her Filipino-American mother was released in October.
Police said Rodwell had made several trips to the Philippines during the past two years and was staying in Ipil after getting married in June to his Filipino wife, a single mother whom he met via the Internet.
According to a Web page on Myspace.com, where the man’s photograph matches that of Rodwell as provided by Philippine police, Rodwell described himself as “an expatriate English-native-speaker ... living in Asia for most of this 21st century.”
He wrote that he had been teaching at a university in China and had written and edited “hardcopy magazines” and traveled throughout the world.