Kidnapping of Italian priest raises Philippine militant alarm
MANILA, Philippines – Rolando del Torchio, 56, was the fourth foreigner kidnapped in the region in three weeks, and brings to eight the number believed to be held by the Abu Sayyaf group, listed by the United States as a terrorist organization. (READ: Kidnappers take owner of Dipolog Italian restaurant)
The kidnappings show the Abu Sayyaf is regaining strength in the south, a desperately poor region home to most of the nation's Muslim minority, after a US-backed military campaign was scaled down this year, analysts said.
"This shows that the Abu Sayyaf is not only regaining its old shape and form, it is also reaching a new level of sophistication," Rodolfo Mendoza, a senior analyst at the Philippine Institute for Peace Violence and Terrorism Research, told Agence France-Presse.
During its heyday in the 2000s, the Abu Sayyaf ransomed off dozens of foreigners from raids as far off as Malaysia's Sipadan island, until its key leaders died in military assaults aided by the United States.
Mendoza noted how in the most recent kidnappings, the Abu Sayyaf struck on opposite ends of the main southern island of Mindanao, an unusually wide arc for their raids for recent years.
On Wednesday night, six suspects seized Del Torchio from a pizza shop he ran in the sleepy port city of Dipolog, then fled by speedboat towards Jolo, the Abu Sayyaf's island stronghold on the country's southwestern tip.
Dipolog is about 400 kilometers (240 miles) from Jolo, a small island where the militants enjoy support of local communities and have the upper hand against the military in remote jungle and mountainous terrain.
Three weeks ago, gunmen seized two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina from the resort island of Samal, about 500 kilometers from Jolo.
Mendoza said the group was brought to Jolo, although the military has not verified this. – Rappler.com