TORONTO/MANILA: The Canadian government has “reason to believe” that Canadian hostage Robert Hall has been killed by his captors in the Philippines, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement on Monday.
Trudeau said Canadian officials were working with authorities in the Philippines to confirm Hall’s death. He was taken captive with three other people by Abu Sayyaf militants in September 2015 from an upscale resort on Samal island, hundreds of miles east of Jolo.
Abu Sayyaf, based in the south of the mainly Catholic country, is known for kidnapping, beheadings and extortion.
“The vicious and brutal actions of the hostage-takers have led to a needless death,” said Trudeau in the statement. “Canada holds the terrorist group who took him hostage fully responsible for this cold-blooded and senseless murder.”
Abu Sayyaf initially demanded one billion pesos (15 million pounds) each for the detainees, but it lowered the ransom to 300 million pesos each early this year.
Philippine security forces were checking intelligence reports that al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants executed Hall on the remote southern Philippine island of Jolo.
Preliminary intelligence reports said he was beheaded 10 minutes after the 3 p.m. deadline in the mountains outside the island’s Patikul town.
Abu Raami, spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf Group, confirmed the beheading of the Canadian in a telephone call to a local newspaper, Philippine Daily Inquirer. The report could not be independently verified.
Wilfredo Cayat, police chief of Jolo island, said officials were checking reports that said Hall was beheaded in Mount Bunga by Ben Yadah, a local Islamist militant holding four captives – three foreigners and a Filipino – since September 2015.
“We are still checking,” he told reporters. “We don’t know if this is true because we know there are ongoing negotiations for their release.”
Military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said there was no confirmation from field units, while Herminio Coloma, spokesman for President Benigno Aquino, said the Philippine leader cancelled a public appearance while the reports were being verified.
Trudeau in his statement reiterated a policy against paying ransom in these cases because doing so would endanger the lives of more Canadians.
Abu Sayyaf executed Canadian John Ridsdel, a former mining executive, in April. A Norwegian man and a Filipino woman are still held captive.
Security is precarious in the southern Philippines despite a 2014 peace pact between the government and the largest Muslim rebel group that ended 45 years of conflict.