Philippine security forces on Thursday appealed for information on an armed group holding three foreigners and a Philippine woman hostage.
Gunmen kidnapped two Canadian tourists, a Norwegian resort manager and a Filipino woman late on Monday (September 21) at a resort on Samal island, near Davao City, the largest city on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines.
The gang escaped with their hostages in boats, which were found the next day hundreds of kilometres southeast in Davao Oriental province.
"There were sightings here in eastern Mindanao, that's all we can say. Perhaps the kidnappers are listening, and they will make a move. But this is our concern - to safely save the kidnap victims," spokesman for Eastern Mindanao Command, Captain Albert Caber, said.
Security forces said they are distributing a sketch of one of the suspected abductors. They said it was based on descriptions given by a Japanese woman who escaped the abduction.
A team is also looking at CCTV tapes to identify the kidnappers, adding that the video footage and the sketch will be shown to the public to help locate the gunmen and the hostages.
"We need information from people in the area so we are appealing to the people along the shores. If they see or observe anyone suspicious or any foreign looking person, they should report it immediately to the nearest police station or military outpost so it can be acted upon right away," Caber said.
Security forces have widened the air, sea, and ground search, deploying additional soldiers and police within the Davao region because authorities believe they are still in the area.
The attack was a reminder that insecurity persists in the south despite a 2014 peace agreement with the largest Muslim rebel group that ended 45 years of conflict in which about 120,000 people were killed and 2 million displaced.
Various small Islamist and communist rebel factions, as well as criminal gangs, operate in the area and authorities were still trying to determine who carried out the kidnapping.
Authorities said they were looking into possibility that the armed men were Maoist rebels or the Abu Sayyaf, an al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group with long history of kidnapping, bombing and beheading in another part of Mindanao.
Philippine authorities have identified the abducted foreigners as John Ridsdel and Robert Hall from Canada and Kjartan Sekkingstad, the Norwegian manager of the resort. The Filipino woman, identified only as Tess, is Hall's partner.