MANILA, Philippines — A former Australian soldier kidnapped in the southern Philippines is seen in a video sent to his family pleading for his life and urging Manila and Canberra to raise a $2 million ransom being demanded by his captors.
The video of 53-year-old Warren Richard Rodwell, along with four photographs showing him in handcuffs and apparently wounded in the right hand, were mailed to his Filipino wife before Christmas, Philippine police officials said. The Associated Press saw a copy of the video and pictures Thursday.
Wearing a sweater and appearing to read from a piece of paper, Rodwell tried to clear his throat as he spoke in the brief video, which was given by his family to Philippine police investigators. Looking haggard and unshaven, he squinted his eyes at times and stood in front of a blue tarpaulin covering a backdrop of vegetation. While saying he was once with the Australian army, Rodwell suggested the terrain he was in was difficult.
One of the photos showed a silver handcuff and its chain dangling from his left wrist. The side of his right palm appeared to be wounded.
In Melbourne, Australia, Home Affairs and Justice Minister Brendan O'Connor told reporters that Australian officials were working with Philippine authorities to ensure Rodwell's safe release, but he refused to divulge more details. When asked about the kidnappers' demand for money, he said Australia has a policy of not paying ransom.
"Our concerns are for him and our thoughts are with his family, and the embassy will be doing everything they possibly can to ensure he's released," O'Connor said.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said that her government has established a task force to investigate the kidnapping.
Rodwell, who also previously worked as a university teacher in Shanghai, was taken at gunpoint by about six men on Dec. 5 in southern Ipil town in Zamboanga Sibugay province. It was the latest abduction of a foreigner in the Philippines' volatile south, where several kidnappings for ransom have been blamed on the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group.
No group has claimed responsibility for Rodwell's kidnapping, but officials suspect the Abu Sayyaf and its allied gunmen may be responsible.
The Abu Sayyaf, which is on Washington's list of terrorist organizations, is believed to still be holding a number of foreign hostages — including a Japanese treasure hunter, an Indian and a Malaysian — in their jungle lairs on Jolo island in southern Sulu province. The militants kidnapped an American boy and his Filipino-American mother last year, but the two separately walked free from southern Basilan island months later, reportedly after ransom payments.
Zamboanga Sibugay province lies a few hours by speedboat from Basilan and Sulu.
Philippine Police Senior Superintendent Ruben Cariaga told the AP on Sunday that the kidnappers called Rodwell's wife after sending the video and pictures before Christmas to demand an initial ransom of $23,000.
Hundreds of Philippine troops and police have been searching for Rodwell in the Zamboanga peninsula and on nearby Basilan island, where the Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim militant groups are active.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a large Muslim rebel group engaged in peace talks with the government, said this week that it would intensify efforts to help secure Rodwell's freedom in coordination with authorities.
McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia.