Gunmen abduct Irish priest in southern Philippines: police | world | Hindustan Times
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Gunmen abduct Irish priest in southern Philippines: police

world Updated: Oct 12, 2009 21:59 IST

Gunmen believed to be Islamic militants kidnapped a 78-year-old Irish priest in the troubled southern Philippines on Sunday, police said.

Michael Sinnott was snatched by six gunmen after they stormed his residence early in the evening near the southern city of Pagadian, regional police commander Chief Superintendent Angelo Sumlao said.

At first, Sumlao identified the priest as Michael Sinot, but later corrected the spelling of his surname to Sinnott, citing records from the priest's order, the Missionaries of St Columban.

The gunmen took Sinnott to a waiting van, which was later found abandoned and torched in a coastal area. They then boarded a small vessel and headed out to sea, Sumlao said, quoting witnesses.

"Father Sinnott is a good man. We don't know why he was kidnapped. He is weak and old but active in many interfaith forums," one of the priest's Filipina friends who did not want to be identified said.

She said she saw the gunmen barge into the priest's quarters before forcibly taking him away in front of terrified companions.

"They couldn't do anything because the men were armed with weapons. They pleaded but the men still took Father Michael. We are praying for his safety," the woman said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the abduction, although previous kidnappings targeting foreign missionaries and tourists have been blamed on the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

The Abu Sayyaf kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi, also near Pagadian, in 2007 and held him for over a month before freeing him, allegedly after the payment of ransom.

In 2001 and 1998, the same group kidnapped priests Giuseppe Pierantoni and Luciano Benedetti. They were freed after alleged payment of ransoms, the military had claimed, although this was denied by the victims.

Meanwhile in January this year, the Abu Sayyaf also kidnapped three aid workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross on the southern island of Jolo.

The Philippine woman, an Italian and a Swiss aid worker were released individually unharmed after a hostage crisis that stretched six months.

The military has since unleashed huge offensives against the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo in recent months, leading to the capture of a major rebel camp and many casualties on both sides.