Search operations for abducted Irish priest underway in Mindanao
by Santosh Digal
Police and soldiers are working together to free Fr Michael Sinnott who was abducted late Saturday in Pagadian as he recited Vespers. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility so far.
Manila (AsiaNews) – Filipino police and military have launched a search operation to rescue Fr Michael Sinnott, a 78-year-old Columban priest from Ireland, who was abducted by six armed men on Saturday in the city of Pagadian near Zamboanga (Mindanao).  Pagadian police head Chief Inspector Michael Palermo said that no terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the action.

The attack took place at 7.20 pm (local time) when the priest was reciting Vespers at home.

A witness, Marieta Burok, said six kidnappers threw the clergyman into a waiting van that was subsequently found torched near the village of Santa Lucia.

They then took a small motorised boat and left in direction of Lanao del Norte province.

Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are the main suspects.

“We can't speculate yet on who is behind the kidnapping, but the militant group Abu Sayyaf is known to be operating near the area,” Regional police commander Chief Superintendent Angelo Sunglao, said.

In the meantime, Mgr Emmanuel Cabajar, archbishop of Pagadian, has appealed to the kidnappers to immediately release of Father Sinnott because of his poor health. The clergyman had heart surgery last July.

Born in Barnatown (Wexford) in 1929, Father Sinnot has been in the Philippines for the past 40 years.

Described as ‘jolly” by his staff, the elderly clergyman is fluent in a number of languages and is well loved among the population, someone without an enemy.

Active in many charity activities, in particular on behalf of disabled children, in 1998 he founded a local charity called the Hangop Kabataan Foundation.

“Sinnott is a zealous priest who has been a great exemplary missionary for many younger priests,” said Fr Colm McKeating, a theology professor at the Maryhill School of Theology in Manila and a former regional director of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban (MSSC) of the Philippines. “Please, join us praying for” his “safe return”.

Father Sinnott is the third Irish priest to be kidnapped. In 1997, Father Des Hartford was abducted by Islamic militants and held for 12 days. In 2001, a priest from Waterford, Father Rufus Hally, was shot dead during an attempted abduction.

Father Sinnott’s kidnapping comes only three months after the release of Eugenio Vanni, abducted on 15 January 2009 near Jolo along with two International Red Cross workers.