UPDATE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that John Ridsdel was executed by Abu Sayyaf militants after being held hostage for six months.
MANILA, Philippines – Police said the head of a Caucasian male was recovered Monday night in the southern Philippines and DNA tests will be conducted to determine whether it belongs to one of three Western hostages who had been threatened with beheading by ransom-seeking Muslim extremists.
Two Canadians —; John Ridsdel and Robert Hall –were among the hostages.
Jolo police chief Supt. Junpikar Sitin said two men on a motorcycle left the head, which was placed in a plastic bag, along a street in Jolo town in Sulu province and then fled.
Abu Sayyaf militants had threatened to behead one of three men – two Canadians and a Norwegian – they kidnapped last September from a marina on southern Samal Island if a large ransom was not paid by 3 p.m. Monday. It now is early Tuesday in the Philippines.
READ MORE: Abu Sayyaf vows to behead Canadian hostage if ransom not paid by Apr. 25
Military officials said the Canadian and Norwegian embassies were notified of the discovery and the steps that will be taken to identify the victim.
Jolo Mayor Hussin Amin condemned the beheading, blaming Abu Sayyaf militants, who have been implicated in past kidnappings, beheadings and bombings.
“This is such a barbaric act by these people and one would be tempted to think that they should also meet the same fate,” Amin said by telephone.
Philippine forces were moving to rescue the abductees, also including a Filipino woman who was kidnapped with them, as the Abu Sayyaf’s deadline for the ransom payment lapsed, the military said.
Global Affairs Canada said it would not comment on the rescue mission led by Philippines military.
“The Government of Canada will not comment or release any information which may compromise ongoing efforts or endanger the safety of Canadian citizens,” spokesperson Rachna Mishra said in an email statement. “The Government of Canada’s first priority is the safety and security of its citizens.”
READ MORE: ‘They will execute us’: Ransom deadline set for Canadians held hostage in Philippines
The militants reportedly demanded 300 million pesos ($6.5 million) for each of the foreigners, a reduction from their earlier demands.
The hostages were believed to have been taken to Jolo Island in Sulu, a jungled province where the militants are thought to be holding a number of captives, including 14 Indonesian and four Malaysian crewmen who were abducted at gunpoint from three tugboats starting last month.
“Maximum efforts are being exerted … to effect the rescue,” the military and police said in a joint statement, without divulging details of the rescue operation, which was ordered by President Benigno Aquino III.
READ MORE: Canadians kidnapped in the Philippines: Here’s what you need to know
About 400 Abu Sayyaf militants were involved in the kidnappings, it said.
In militant videos posted online, Canadians Ridsdel and Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipino Marites Flor were shown sitting in a clearing with heavily armed militants standing behind them. In some of the videos, a militant aimed a long knife on Ridsdel’s neck. Two black flags hung in the backdrop of lush foliage.
The abductions highlight the long-running security problems hounding the southern Philippines, a region with bountiful resources that also suffers from poverty, lawlessness and decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies.
The Abu Sayyaf began a series of large-scale abductions after it emerged in the early 1990s as an offshoot of a separatist rebellion by minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation’s south.
It has been weakened by more than a decade of Philippine offensives but has endured largely as a result of large ransom and extortion earnings. The United States and the Philippines have both listed the group as a terrorist organization.
–with a file from Global News