Elderly Swiss-born man kidnapped in Philippines
Suspected Islamic militants wearing police uniforms kidnapped an elderly Swiss-born man from his home in the restive southern Philippines, authorities said Monday.
Charles Reith, 72, who has been living in the Philippines for decades, was taken away from his beachside house by speedboat on Sunday night with the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf organisation immediately named as the likely culprits.
"Our reports state that it is the Abu Sayyaf group although we are looking at other angles because the victim is a long-time resident," national police chief Jesus Verzosa told reporters.
The Abu Sayyaf have for years terrorised foreigners and locals in the Philippines’ often lawless southern Mindanao region, kidnapping dozens of people in hopes of securing ransom payments.
Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded an American hostage in 2001, and most recently chopped off the head of a local businessman on Mindanao’s Basilan island in December last year after their ransom demands went unfulfilled.
The United States lists the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organisation and has hundreds of soldiers based in the southern Philippines to train the local military in how to fight the group.
However, there are many other groups in Mindanao that have staged kidnappings for ransom, including members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a 12,000-strong separatist rebel organisation.
The local military and police said at least eight gunmen raided Reith’s home on the outskirts of Zamboanga, a major port city in the south, on Sunday night.
"The raiders, disguised as policemen, arrived on several speedboats and abducted Reith," Colonel Santiago Baluyot, commander of the army’s anti-terrorist task force in Zamboanga, told reporters.
"We launched a pursuit operation but it was too dark to track down the raiders."
Baluyot said Reith’s friend Karl Reichling, a German national, was with him when the abduction occurred.
The gunmen also attempted to take Reichling but he was able to fend them off, according to Baluyot.
Baluyot and other army officers said Reith had been living in the southern Philippines for about 40 years and was a naturalised Filipino who had a local wife.
However regional army chief Major General Romeo Lustestica also said Reith was still a Swiss national. Officials at the Swiss embassy in Manila were not available on Monday to clarify Reith’s citizenship.
Reith was a well-respected member of the local community, according to Erico Fabian, a Zamboanga representative in the national parliament who said he was a close friend of the abducted man.
"Mr Reith is a civic-minded person and a permanent fixture in business circles here," Fabian told reporters.
"I personally condemn this abduction because this guy is old and has done no wrong, only good, to the city."
Before Reith, the most recent foreigner to have been abducted in Mindanao was Irish priest Michael Sinnott, who had similarly lived in the Philippines for many years.
Sinnott, who was then aged 79, was kidnapped in October last year and held for a month.
The Abu Sayyaf was initially suspected of being involved in the kidnapping.
However, Sinnott said after being released his abductors told him they were from a nomadic Muslim tribe who wanted extra money from a potential ransom for their own armed struggle against authorities.