MANILA (Reuters) - An Italian man, who was a former missionary priest, has been abducted by armed men from his restaurant in the southern Philippines, security officials said on Thursday, the latest in a string of abductions targeting foreigners in the south.
Small Islamist and communist rebel factions, as well as criminal gangs, operate in the southern Mindanao region and often snatch people in the hope ransoms will be paid. Police said that was the most likely motive for the latest abduction.
Rolando del Torchio, 53, was taken at gunpoint after four men entered his pizzeria in Dipolog City in the restive southern region of Mindanao posing as customers, police said. They were among a group of 10 abductors who dragged del Torchio into a getaway van that was later found abandoned.
It was believed del Torchio was then transferred to a motor boat that headed for southern coastal towns in Zamboanga del Norte province, according to a police report.
Del Torchio had previously been targeted by kidnappers when he spent five years in Sibuco town, south of Dipolog. He was a missionary priest with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions there in the 1990s before he left the priesthood, said Dipolog City police chief Rannie Hachuela.
The Philippine navy and air force were trying to intercept the kidnappers, said Lieutenant Colonel Audie Mongao, an army public affairs officer.
Senior police superintendent Romulo Cleve Taboso said authorities were investigating whether the kidnappers belonged to the same group that kidnapped a town chief in the area in May. That group later turned their captive over to a bigger gang in southern Sulu province.
Last month, gunmen kidnapped two Canadian tourists, a Norwegian resort manager and a Filipino woman at a resort on Samal island near Davao City, the largest city in Mindanao.
Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Paul Tait