UPDATED: A Norwegian man identified as 56-year-old Kjartan Sekkingstad from Hordaland was kidnapped along with three others from a resort in the Philippines late Monday night. A local police chief told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “the hostage takers had clear goals.”
Norway’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the kidnapping that was first reported by news bureau Reuters. It was said to have been carried out by a group of as many as 11 armed men who fled in two small boats.
Witnesses told the Mindanao Times that they stormed the Oceanview Resort and yacht club on the island of Samal not far from Davao, the largest city in Mindanao. The sprawling island region in the southern part of the Philippines is the country’s only area with a significant Muslim presence and known for unrest and armed separatist movements.
The Davao area has been relatively peaceful in recent years, however, and both police and the military expressed surprise at what appears to have been an attack on the resort. Police Chief Samuel Gadingan told NRK that kidnappers seized two Canadian tourists and a Filipina woman in addition to the Norwegian man, who worked as a manager for the yacht club. Gadingan said he thinks the tourists were the main goals and that the Norwegian was seized when he heard noise from the abduction, emerged from a boat in the marina and went to investigate.
A spokeswoman for Norwegian government in Oslo said the embassy in Manila was alerted and “we are in the process of investigating further.” The embassy, she said, is in contact with local authorities in the Philippines.
A reporter at the Mindanao Times told NRK that there were around 30 foreign tourists at the resort and that sources claimed the kidnappers were members of the guerrilla group Abu Sayyaf. A press release from the Philippines’ president’s office, however, said security guards found a handwritten note at the scene of the kidnapping calling for “justice” for the NPA, which stands for the New Peoples Army, another guerrilla organization tied to the Philippines’ communist party.
Gadingan told NRK that the yacht club had two armed guards but they couldn’t fend off the armed intruders. Military sources said the armed group spoke English and the local language, Tagalog. Two Japanese tourists reportedly tried to intervene but were unsuccessful.
Local authorities were searching for the kidnappers and their hostages with both boats and aircraft. Since the boats used by the kidnappers to flee were said to be small, police believed they couldn’t have sailed far and were still in the area.
Norway has been involved in efforts to negotiate peace between the Islamic insurgents and the Philippines government. A settlement last year was believed to have brought an end to the conflict that has cost at least 12,000 lives over the past several decades.
Authorities said no demands for ransom had been received as of Tuesday morning.