Gunmen kidnap Italian restaurateur in Dipolog

Posted on October 09, 2015

ABOUT TWO WEEKS after the kidnappings in Samal Island in eastern Mindanao, gunmen have seized an Italian restaurant owner and former priest in the western part of this region, authorities said Thursday, expressing fears he was taken to the island lair of the extremist Abu Sayyaf group.

Six suspects, four posing as customers, kidnapped Rolando del Torchio in a swift raid on Wednesday that shocked the dinnertime crowd at his pizzeria in the sleepy port city of Dipolog, the capital of Zamboanga del Norte province, a regional military spokesman said.

The group bundled Mr. del Torchio into a waiting van then sped off to Manukan town some 50 kilometers (30 miles) away, where they transferred to a motorboat, Captain Roy Vincent Trinidad told AFP.

Mr. del Torchio, who is in his fifties, had previously been targeted by kidnappers when he spent five years in Sibuco town, south of Dipolog. He was a missionary priest with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions there in the 1990s before he left the priesthood, said Dipolog City police chief Rannie Hachuela.

Navy ships have been alerted to intercept the bandits after intelligence indicated the boat had navigated along the Zamboanga peninsula coastline toward the southwestern island of Jolo, some 400 kilometers away, he added.

Jolo is the main base of al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for the Philippine’s deadliest terror attacks, beheadings and kidnappings of foreign tourists and Christian missionaries.

“All kidnappings in the peninsula end up in Jolo. That’s the pattern,” Mr. Trinidad said.

“Hostages taken in the area are eventually turned over to the Abu Sayyaf.”

The ragtag Abu Sayyaf has engaged in frequent kidnappings of locals as well foreigners in often successful efforts to extort ransoms.

A Filipino village chief who was seized from the same southwestern peninsula in May was found beheaded on a Jolo highway three months later after the government refused to pay.

Two other coast guard men who were abducted with the village official were also brought to Jolo but eventually escaped amid a hail of gunfire as the military pounded the bandits’ lair.

Wednesday’s incident was the second abduction involving foreigners in the South in less than a month, after the military said Abu Sayyaf is holding foreigners hostage in the Jolo jungles: a Dutch man, a Korean and two Malaysians.

Local press have also reported that four foreigners abducted from a luxury island resort in the south Philippines last month -- two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina -- are being held on the island, although authorities have not confirmed this.

The Italian embassy in Manila did not immediately return a request for comment. -- AFP/Reuters