Kidnapped Irish priest seen alive in Philippines: army

Kidnapped Irish priest seen alive in Philippines: army

An elderly Irish Roman Catholic priest kidnapped in the Philippines has been seen alive in captivity in an area where Islamist militants are known to operate, authorities said Tuesday, AFP reported.

Michael Sinnott, 79, and his heavily armed captors were seen Monday on the coast of Moro Gulf on the southern island of Mindanao, regional military chief Major-General Ben Dolorfino said.

"The victim and his kidnappers were sighted in Lanao del Sur," Dolorfino told reporters in Zamboanga City, but did not give specific details so as not to jeopardise ongoing military operations.

He declined to elaborate when asked why troops were not immediately sent in to rescue Sinnott, who was seized by six armed men Sunday from his home at the Missionary Society of Saint Columban compound in Pagadian City.

Related article: Rebels deny priest kidnapping His abduction is the latest in a long list of kidnappings for ransom targeting foreign missionaries and tourists in the southern third of this majority Roman Catholic nation.

Military reports indicating the priest, who is two months short of his 80th birthday, was alive came amid concerns from his colleagues that Sinnott, who had a quadruple heart bypass several years ago, may not survive the ordeal.

Dolorfino gave no details about Sinnott's health, and only expressed hope his abductors would treat him well.

"We cannot say anything about his condition but we know he recently underwent bypass surgery and considering that situation (we hope) his captors may not move him around to different places," Dolorfino said.

Authorities have said the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf or the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are suspects. Both groups, as well as other unnamed Muslim armed gangs, are known to operate in parts of Lanao.

However, the 12,000-strong MILF on Tuesday denied it was behind the attack, and said it was willing to help troops track down the kidnappers and recover the priest.

"We are not involved in this, and we see no reason why our men should be involved in this," MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu told AFP.

Founded in the 1990s with seed money from the Al Qaeda, the Abu Sayyaf meanwhile has been blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks.

Sinnott's superior Patrick O'Donoghue said the church has not received calls from any group claiming responsibility for the abduction, but he was quick to rule out paying a ransom.

"We won't give any ransom," O'Donoghue said, citing church policy.

He said Sinnott's health was fragile, and he could die if he failed to take his daily medicine.

"He has recovered (from the surgery) but he needs constant medication," O'Donoghue said. "He is taking his daily medication and without that, his health would be jeopardised."

"Whatever your motives are, please recognise the age and health condition of Father Sinnott and his love for the needy children with disabilities," O'Donoghue said in a message to the kidnappers.

"For these reasons, please release him quickly and safely."

Sinnott has spent about 40 years in the Philippines, first arriving in Mindanao in 1957 as a young missionary, serving for nine years before being posted abroad. He came back in 1976 and never left.

Fondly called Father Mick by his flock, he is described by his colleagues as a compassionate defender of victims of injustice and as a benefactor to the poor, especially children with disabilities.

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