Seized Australian lands in Abu Sayyaf hands

ZAMBOANGA CITY: Authorities said a kidnapped Australian is now being held by a notorious Abu Sayyaf group blamed for terrorism in Mindanao. Warren Rodwell, 53, was kidnapped from his home on December 5 in the town of Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay province, about 120 kms east of here. “We have confirmation that Warren Rodwell is being held by the group of Abu Sayyaf leader Puruji Indama in Basilan province. We have stepped up efforts to locate Rodwell and his captors,” Army Colonel Ricardo Visaya, commander of the 104th Infantry Brigade, said. The military said that Rodwell was kidnapped by a local gang with links to the Abu Sayyaf in the Muslim province of Basilan. Police also linked Barahama Ali, a commander of the larger rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, to the kidnapping.

Visaya said they still do not know whether the two rebel groups had merged or if Rodwell was “sold” or handed over to the Abu Sayyaf. “We still don’t know whether the groups of Ali and Indama have merged or not, but Rodwell is now in the hands of Indama,” he said. Rodwell – a former soldier in the Australian army and a prolific world traveler – married a Filipina Miraflor Gutang, 27, in June in Ipil town weeks after the two met through the Internet. Gutang has appealed to the kidnappers to free her husband, saying he is not rich and ill, but she did not elaborate on his condition.

Rodwell House

Authorities have tagged Indama as behind the kidnapping of a US woman Gerfa Lunsmann and her son Kevin Eric, and a Filipino relative in July in Zamboanga City. The trio was released separately after the woman’s husband Heiko Lunsmann paid a huge ransom to the Abu Sayyaf. Indama was also blamed to numerous kidnappings in Basilan and Zamboanga City in recent years. Some of his victims were killed after their families failed to pay ransoms. His group was also tagged as behind the beheadings of civilians and government soldiers in clashes in Basilan, just several nautical miles south of Zamboanga City. The Abu Sayyaf, tied by the police and military to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya, has kidnapped over a dozen people in the past years in the southern Philippines and is still holding an Indian, two Malaysians and a Japanese man.

By Bob East PhD

Australian’s kidnappers posed as policemen – witnesses

ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY: A Filipino farming couple said they have witnessed how gunmen dragged an Australian man they kidnapped in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga Sibugay. Joel Bulay, 44, and his wife, Rosanna, 41, said they witnessed how Warren Rodwell, (53), was being dragged away by gunmen who introduced themselves as policemen. “We saw the man they call Warren Rodwell as he was being dragged away at gunpoint by four men. One of the men who was armed with an M16 rifle told us not to be afraid because they are policemen as they hurriedly dragged the white man and they disappeared in the dark over there in the bushes that lead to the river and the open sea,” said Joel as he points to the horizon outside the family’s grass hut in the village of Pangi where the kidnappers had escaped.

“I was really scared, so scared that I was trembling in fear and could do nothing because we fear for our safety. One of my girls, who is five years old, suspected it was kidnapping and I told her to keep quiet because we are scared the gunmen will take us and use our family as shield in their escape,” he said. The farmer said he saw Rodwell in handcuffs as two of the gunmen were holding the foreigner tightly in both his arms and another man, armed with pistol, pushed him to walk faster as the fourth kidnapper pulled him by his cuffs. Rosanna said they heard one gunshot in Rodwell’s house and then saw the gunmen dragging the foreigner to the bushes. “He could hardly walk as if he was in pain, but we did not hear anything from Rodwell as they passed by our house. He did not say anything and we are not sure if Rodwell saw us,” she said, adding the kidnapping coincided with a mysterious blackout in the subdivision.

“It was really mysterious. The kidnappers struck just as the lights went off and only in our subdivision and electricity came back an hour later,” the woman said. Security officials said Rodwell might have been shot and wounded by the kidnappers during a struggle. Government troops continue their search for Rodwell on Thursday, but there have been no reports about the former Australian army soldier. Rodwell married a 27-year old Filipina woman – Mariflor Gutang – in June this year after a short “Internet” love affair and moved to Ipil town where he bought a house which is heavily barbed and corralled. Rodwell’s neighbors described him as a strict man, others said he is arrogant and would often drive away people staring or passing near his house. “He is really strict and perceived as arrogant. He would drive people away and he does not want neighbors near his house. He does not speak to us or mingles with his neighbors,” Joel said.

But Merly Suan, 18, described Rodwell as a silent man who goes by his everyday life alone. “He sometimes smiles at me if I see him in his motorbike. I think he is a good man and we pity him. We pray for his safety,” she said. Rodwell’s wife left him after a fight last month and now lives with her parents in their ancestral home in the town of Naga also in Zamboanga Sibugay province. She has appealed to the kidnappers to free Rodwell, saying he is not rich and is ill.

Aussie’s captors contacted gov, says security official

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – The kidnappers of an Australian national have reportedly contacted Zamboanga Sibugay Gov. Rommel Jalosjos to open possible negotiations for the victim’s release, a security official said yesterday. The source, who asked not to be named due to a “news blackout” on the kidnapping, said the captors of Warren Richard Rodwell did not demand anything yet, except saying that they wanted to negotiate directly with Jalosjos. The source could not immediately say when the kidnappers contacted the governor, adding though that they “apparently contacted twice.” Authorities could not confirm the reported contact, but expressed surprise how the kidnappers managed to get the cell phone number of the governor. Jalosjos, who imposed the news blackout, refused to answer calls or queries on the supposed contact by the kidnappers. Chief Superintendent Elpedio de Asis, Region 9 police director, declined to confirm or deny the information, saying only the local crisis management committee is authorized to make any statement on the case. Director Felicisimo Khu, chief of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operation in Western Mindanao, and Ipil Mayor Aldwin Alibutdan, head of the crisis management committee, also declined to answer calls. But a security source said the cell phone number used by the kidnappers in calling Jalosjos is now being tracked down. Authorities suspect the kidnappers may have brought 56-year-old Rodwell to Basilan, a known turf of Abu Sayyaf militants who have been involved in several ransom kidnappings. Rodwell was seized from his home in Barangay Upper Pangi, Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay last Dec. 5.

Abu Sayyaf FB page

Kidnappers slip through military dragnet

ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY: Gunmen who kidnapped an Australian soldier-turned-teacher may have escaped a massive military and police dragnet in the small seaside town of Ipil here. Authorities have deployed hundreds of soldiers and policemen to search for the 53-year old Warren Rodwell of Sydney, following a daring kidnapping that had embarrassed security officials and triggered a new wave of travel warnings from Australia and the United Kingdom. Both countries are staunch allies of the Philippines in its fight against homegrown terrorism. The Western Mindanao Command, which has control over half of the military forces in the volatile south, said Rodwell was kidnapped by a local gang with links to the small, but the most notorious terror group called the Abu Sayyaf – blamed for the spate of bombings and kidnappings of foreigners and wealthy Filipino traders in the past two decades.

“There is a possibility that the kidnappers are no longer in Ipil. It’s been a week now since the kidnapping and we don’t know where they are right now, but the operation is still going on to track down the kidnappers and their captive Warren Rodwell,” Mayor Edwin Alibutdan said in an interview. Alibutdan, who heads the local crisis management committee handling the kidnapping case, said no individual or group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. “There is no specific group that claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. There is no contact with the kidnappers and Rodwell’s family has not received any demand for ransom,” he said.

He said he would convene a joint police and military peace and order council to tackle the progress of the government’s rescue efforts and to determine whether the kidnappers and their hostage are still within the town’s hinterlands or had escaped the massive operation. “We just want to be sure whether the kidnappers and their captive are still here or no longer here and to take the necessary steps to protect foreigners coming in and out of Ipil,” he said. Alibutdan has ordered additional security patrol and told police and military to put up more detachments in coastal areas to prevent lawless elements from sneaking into the town which was pillaged by the Abu Sayyaf in 1995 that left 53 people dead. “The fear of terrorism is deeply rooted among locals because of what happened in 1995. Even now we get news of impending attacks in Ipil and these cause great fear to my people and I assure them that I will not allow terror to again reign in their hearts and minds,” he said.

Locals said they always see Alibutdan leading village patrol during nighttime. “I have no fear. If I show fear, then all my people will be afraid, scared of everything. I don’t even bring bodyguards around with me. The people are vigilant here,” the Mayor said. Rodwell, who now teaches English language in universities in China, is married to a Filipino woman Miraflor Gutang, 27. Rodwell met the woman in May this year on the Internet and married her the next month after dating her in Zamboanga City. Alibutdan officiated the civil wedding in Ipil, but months into their rocky marriage, the woman filed two complaints with the police against Rodwell, accusing him of maltreatment, and left him last month after an argument, and stayed with her family in the neighboring town of Naga. Police said Rodwell’s Filipino neighbors also complained about the foreigner’s arrogance and attitude and often chased away people who would go near his bungalow-type house surrounded by barbed fence and hanged a huge sign that reads “No Trespassing. Pribado.”

News blackout could endanger hostage – expert

AN EXPERT on insurgencies in the southern Philippines says the Australian government’s news blackout on the abduction of Sydney adventurer Warren Rodwell could further imperil his life. Bob East from the University of Southern Queensland, who has written a PhD and other research papers on the insurgencies, says the media should be free to report all aspects of the kidnapping. If the kidnappers believe their hostage is unimportant then his chances of survival are indeed minimal, Dr East told the Herald. After all, if the prime reason for the kidnapping is profit, and there is no profit to be made, then there is no point in keeping their quarry, he said. The governor of Zamboanga Sibugay, Rommel Jalosjos, imposed a news blackout on the kidnapping last week at the request of Australian officials who travelled to the restive Mindanao province to help efforts to free Mr Rodwell, 53, who was abducted by four men posing as policemen last Monday. The decision to impose a news blackout contradicts the recommendations of a Senate inquiry last month that Australian authorities handling the kidnappings of Australians overseas should co-operate with the media, not ignore it. Dr East, who has researched the insurgencies over years, said Mr Rodwell may have been kidnapped by criminals who like to be seen as members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist organisation which is portrayed as having ambitions for creating a pure Islamic state in the southern Philippines.

He said these criminals take advantage of inadequate law enforcement in that part of the Philippines to pursue their agenda – terrorism for profit. Dr East wrote in a research paper the organisation which used to be well disciplined is now only comprised of bandits and criminals whose only agenda is greed and violence and any claim to be doing so in the name of a higher authority is pure fantasy and heresy. The Philippine military says it suspects a gang linked to the Abu Sayyaf is behind Mr Rodwell’s kidnapping. It has also not ruled out gangs with links to other claimed separatist groups or local criminal gangs. The release at the weekend of an American teenage hostage in the same area Mr Rodwell was abducted has raised hopes negotiators will be able to secure his release, if the same group is responsible. Fourteen-year-old Kevin Lunsmann, his mother, Gerfa Yeatts Lunsmann, 42 and a Filipino relative Romnick Jakaria, 19, were kidnapped in Zamboanga City in July. Mrs Lunsman and Mr Jakaria were freed earlier. It is not known if ransoms were paid. The kidnappers were demanding a ransom of 50 million Philippines pesos ($1.3 million) for the teenager. Kidnappers are also still believed to be holding an Indian, two Malaysians and a Japanese man on Basilan island, a stronghold for rebels. Mr Rodwell, who married a Filipina, Miraflor Gutang, 27, in June after an internet romance, was kidnapped from a house he bought in a village near the seaside town of Ipil, 130 kilometres from Zamboanga City. He was shot in the foot  (hand) as he struggled with kidnappers before he was dragged away. Security forces have launched a big hunt for Mr Rodwell, a prolific world traveller who taught English in China for more than eight years after leaving Sydney a decade ago. Ms Gutang has appealed for the release of her husband, saying he is unwell and she has no money to pay a ransom.

News blackout slammed on Australian kidnapping

ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY: A Filipino governor, whose province is where a former Australian army soldier was recently kidnapped, has imposed a news blackout about the progress of the government operation to the foreigner. Warren Rodwell, 53, was seized by gunmen from his home in Greenmeadows Subdivision on December 5. He was also shot in the foot while trying to fight off the kidnappers, a security spokesman said. Governor Rommel Jalosjos said the news blackout will run until the situation improves in the province. He said he would also pass a resolution for all foreign residents in the province to coordinate with the provincial government for their own safety.

“We are a democracy and as such, they (foreigners) don’t have to make ‘paalam,’ (to tell us they are staying here) but because of this incident, I will be passing a resolution for all foreign visitors to coordinate with the provincial government so we can easily monitor them,” he told reporters. It was not immediately known how many foreigners are present in Zamboanga Sibugay, but Luisa Morrison, the Filipino wife of a Scottish national was also kidnapped in September by rebels and taken to Basilan province where she was rescued by army soldiers following a firefight a week later.

Jalosjos said he had a meeting with Australian government officials and the Federal police in Zamboanga about Rodwell, but he did not what was discussed. “They just wanted to touch base with me and I offered them whatever assistance we can give including logistical support,” he said. He said the kidnappers have not contacted Rodwell’s Filipino family or made a ransom demand. The Sydney man married Miraflor Gutang, 27, in June after they met on the internet. “Whoever had kidnapped my husband, he is not rich. Return him to us and please don’t hurt him. My husband is ill,” Gutang said without elaborating as she appealed to Rodwell’s captors during a brief radio interview.

Security forces have launched a massive search in the province and nearby areas which included the Muslim province of Basilan, a known stronghold of Abu Sayyaf militants with links to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya. The military said a local gang with links to the Abu Sayyaf was behind Rodwell’s kidnapping, but authorities are also looking into the possible involvement of some members of the larger rebel group called Moro Islamic Liberation Front which is currently negotiating peace with Manila. MILF rebels had been previously tagged by authorities in numerous kidnappings for ransom of foreigners in the troubled region. Kidnappers are still holding an Indian national, two Malaysians, a US teenager and a Japanese man i

Filipino gang with links to Sayyaf blamed for kidnapping of Aussie man

ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 7, 2011) – Philippine authorities tagged a gang with links to the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group as behind the kidnapping of an Australian man in Zamboanga Sibugay province in the restive region of Mindanao. Warren Rodwell, 53, had been seized on December 5 by several gunmen after he was shot in the foot while trying to fight off the kidnappers who barged in his house in the coastal town of Ipil, said Army Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command. “Based on witness account, Rodwell was shot in the foot while trying to fight off the kidnappers, who are members of a local gang, but with links to the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan province,” he said without further elaborating. Rodwell, who is married to a Filipina, Miraflor Gutang, 27, also known as Grace, was alone in the house when gunmen seized him. Cabangbang said security forces have launched a massive search for Rodwell in the Zamboanga Peninsula which is made up of the provinces of Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte and Basilan.

He said the kidnappers escaped toward the sea with their captive, but it was unknown whether they managed to flee the town. He said the kidnappers have not contacted the foreigner’s wife or made any demand for his release. Army Colonel Gerry Barientos, commander of the 102nd Infantry Brigade based in Ipil, said they deployed troops to track down the kidnappers, who could still be in the province. “We have deployed more soldiers in the province to track down the kidnappers and the hostage. They could still be in the province,” he told the Mindanao Examiner. Local reporters who were able to interview Rodwell’s wife said she made an appeal to the kidnappers to free the Australian man, saying they don’t have money (to pay ransom). In September this year, kidnappers also seized the Filipino wife of a Scottish national in Ipil town – Luisa Galvez Morrison – and brought her by boat to Basilan province where she was rescued by soldiers a week later following a firefight with the Abu Sayyaf. (Mindanao Examiner)

Australian kidnapped in Zambo Sibugay

ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY, Philippines – Unidentified armed men kidnapped an Australian in Ipil town, Zamboanga Sibugay province on Monday, the military said. The victim was identified as Warren Richard Rodwell, a resident of Green Meadow Subdivision in Barangay Lower Pangi, Ipil. His kidnappers were last spotted heading south toward the sea, according to Lt. Col. Randy Cabangcabang, spokesman of the military’s Western Mindanao Command. Soldiers and police are pursuing the kidnappers as of posting. – report from ABS-CBN Zamboanga



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