MANILA, Philippines – Suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen have demanded more than $60 million for two Canadians and a Norwegian they are holding in the jungles of the southern Philippines, the largest ransom the Muslim militants have sought for hostages in years.
Army Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado said Wednesday the Philippine government maintains a no-ransom policy, and there would be no letup in efforts by his troops to secure the hostages' freedom in the safest way possible.
In the video reported by the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi websites, the kidnappers and their captives said for the first time that the Abu Sayyaf was behind the Sept. 21 kidnappings at a marina on the southern resort island of Samal.
In the first video of the hostages last month, the kidnappers demanded a stop to military offensives but did not identify themselves.
In the new video, the hostages and one of the mostly masked kidnappers said a ransom of 1 billion pesos ($21 million) must be paid for each of the captives to secure their freedom. The militant said the captives would be killed if the ransoms are not paid but did not give any deadline.
One of the hostages, Canadian John Ridsdel, pleaded for Canada's prime minister and people to heed the ransom demand "as soon as possible or our lives are in great danger."
A militant who did not wear a mask pointed a knife at him and the two other captives as each spoke. A fourth female captive seized from Samal who has been identified by authorities as a Filipino named Marites Flor was not allowed to speak in the video. It wasn't clear whether the militants were demanding a similar ransom for her.
Philippine authorities have identified the two other hostages as Canadian Robert Hall and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad.
The hostages were seen sitting in a clearing with more than a dozen heavily armed militants standing behind them. Two black flags were displayed in the background.
Samal is in Davao del Norte province in the southern Philippines, the site of a decades-long Muslim rebellion in the largely Roman Catholic nation.
The militants are still holding a number of captives in Sulu, including a Dutch birdwatcher and two Malaysians. An elderly South Korean man who was kidnapped 10 months ago and held by the Abu Sayyaf was found dead in Sulu on Saturday. He apparently died from an unspecified illness while in jungle captivity, raising concerns about the health conditions of the remaining captives.
Philippine troops launched new assaults following the South Korean's death, killing at least two Abu Sayyaf militants in Sulu, the military said.
The United States and the Philippines have listed the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization because of kidnappings, beheadings, extortion and bomb attacks. The al-Qaida-linked militants have been weakened but have survived more than a decade of U.S.-backed offensives.
Following the Sept. 21 kidnappings, Philippine authorities vowed to strengthen security in the south. But three weeks later, gunmen abducted a former Italian Catholic missionary from his pizza restaurant in southern Zamboanga Sibugay province.
The abductions highlight the long-running security problems that have hounded the southern Philippines, a region with bountiful resources, but which also suffers from poverty, lawlessness and decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies.
Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.