Former Calgary journalist among 4 abducted by gunmen on Philippine island

A former Calgary man who worked as a journalist in the 1970s is among four people abducted at gunpoint on a southern Philippine island.

Hostages were taken by boat from tourist town, military spokesperson says

Canadian John Ridsdel was killed by the Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the Philippines Monday. (@JBR10000/Twitter)

A former Calgary man who worked as a journalist in the 1970s is among four people abducted at gunpoint on a southern Philippine island.

Police in the Philippines say John Ridsdel, 68, who more recently was a mining company executive, was kidnapped along with fellow Canadian Robert Hall, a Filipino woman, and the Norwegian manager of the upscale marina and resort complex where the hostage taking occurred late Monday night.

Hall is reported to be 50 years old. The Filipino woman has been identified as Teresita Flor. 

Ridsdel, described as semi-retired, is the former chief operating officer of mining company TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc., a subsidiary of Canada's TVI Pacific, where he is still a consultant.

TVI Pacific is assisting with the efforts to have Ridsdel freed, said company spokeswoman Shirley Anthony. 

A LinkedIn page for Ridsdel said he became president of TVI Minerals Processing in April 2011. Information from a Bloomberg Business website says Ridsdel used to work for Petro-Canada, domestically at first and later in Pakistan, Burma and Algeria. 

Prior to joining Petro-Canada, he worked as a producer and reporter at CBC Calgary, and at the Calgary Herald, former colleagues say.

Couple escaped

At least 11 men armed with pistols arrived on a motorboat before midnight on Monday and entered the Holiday Ocean View Samal Resort on Samal Island off Davao City, military officials said, citing security video that captured part of the kidnapping.

The gunmen attempted to seize an American and his Japanese companion on one of the yachts docked at the marina, but the couple resisted and escaped by jumping off the boat. The two suffered minor injuries as they struggled to break free from the kidnappers, police said.

A man walks inside the Holiday Ocean View Samal Resort, on Samal Island in southern Philippines on Tuesday, a day after gunmen abducted a Norwegian resort manager, two Canadians and a Filipino woman. The gunmen appeared to have specifically targeted the victims, regional military spokesman Capt. Alberto Caber said. (Manuel Canyon/Associated Press)

Amid the commotion, the Canadians, Ridsdel and Hall, and the Filipino woman, Flor, rushed out of their yacht and were taken.

Sekkingstad was seized when he approached to check what was happening, said Senior Supt. Samuel Gandingan, the police chief of Davao del Norte province, which includes Samal Island.

Government forces later heard of the abductions and launched a search.

"Unfortunately, the lead time that the abductors had and the darkness of night were able to cover the retreat of the abductors," military spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla told reporters in Manila.

Ridsdel well trained

Sandy Hunter, an old friend of Ridsdel, says his many years of working in unstable countries will have prepared him well for this ordeal.

"So in those periods he would have had really good backup, and incredible training, because there was always the expectation that you might get kidnapped, so he would have been trained to deal with this kind of eventuality," he said.

"He would be doing very well, I mean he's a gregarious guy, high intellect, going back to before CBC he graduated from the London School of Economics, so he has the wherewithal to work through these kinds of things."

Government forces on planes and helicopters were scouring the waters and coastal areas in the Davao Gulf, according to Padilla and the police. Two motorboats were found in nearby Davao Oriental province and authorities were trying to ascertain if they were the boats the kidnappers had used, Gandingan said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the federal government is aware of reports that Canadians were kidnapped in the Philippines and is "pursuing all appropriate channels to seek further information."

The government said it will not comment or release any information "which may compromise ongoing efforts and risk endangering the safety of Canadian citizens abroad."

Norwegian officials said they have been notified about the reported abduction but have yet to independently confirm it.

"We are obviously very concerned now," Olav David Sekkingstad, the father of the abducted Norwegian, told the Bergens Tidende newspaper in Norway.

Restive area

Speaking to CBC News from Mindanao, freelance reporter Dean Bernardo said the gunmen disarmed the resort's security guards.

"[The abduction] is quite unusual because this is a tourist town, and among the places here in Mindanao, this is supposed one of the... safest," Bernardo said. "It is heavily secured."

No group has claimed responsibility. Muslim and communist rebels, al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants and criminal syndicates have been active for years in the restive southern region due to weak law enforcement in rural areas despite years of on-and-off government crackdowns.

Philippines officials said the hostages were taken at gunpoint during a raid late on Monday night on the Oceanview resort on Samal island, near Davao City, the largest city on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines. (Google)

Communist New People's Army guerrillas are active in the hinterlands of the Davao region, about 975 kilometres southeast of Manila, where they have denounced foreign mining operations and military counterinsurgency assaults.

Abu Sayyaf militants are notorious for kidnapping foreigners and Filipinos for ransom in the vast Mindanao region. In 2001, Abu Sayyaf militants tried unsuccessfully to seize hostages from the Pearl Farm Beach Resort south of Ocean View during a ransom-kidnapping spree.

The Abu Sayyaf abducted 21 people, mostly European tourists, from a diving resort in neighbouring Malaysia in 2000, then abducted three Americans and 17 Filipinos the following year from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan province southwest of Manila.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen are still holding other hostages, including two Malaysians, a Dutch bird watcher kidnapped nearly three years ago, and a town mayor. All are believed to be held by the militants in their jungle bases in southern Sulu province.

With files from CBC News