KANANASKIS, Alta. — Canada “does not and will not” pay ransom to terrorists, either directly or indirectly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.
Trudeau found himself responding Tuesday to more questions about the death of Canadian John Ridsdel, who was killed by Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines after seven months of captivity.
“Obviously, this is a significant source of funds for terrorist organizations that then allow them to continue to perpetrate deadly acts of violence against innocents around the world,” Trudeau said.
“Paying ransom for Canadians would endanger the lives of every single one of the millions of Canadians who live work and travel around the globe every single year.”
Ridsdel, 68, of Calgary, was one of four tourists — including fellow Canadian Robert Hall, a Norwegian man and a Filipino woman — who were kidnapped last Sept. 21 by Abu Sayyaf militants from a marina on southern Samal Island.
The Norwegian hostage is also a Canadian permanent resident, a government official — speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the details publicly — said Tuesday.
Trudeau — whose news conference marked the end of a three-day Liberal cabinet retreat in the Alberta mountain retreat of Kananaskis, Alta. — also denied having had any direct hand in any negotiations.
The militants had threatened to kill one of the three male hostages if a large ransom was not paid by 3 p.m. Monday local time — 3 a.m. ET. A plastic bag containing Ridsdel’s decapitated head was dumped in a street Monday night by two men on a motorcycle in Jolo, a town in Sulu province.
Abu Sayyaf — the name means “bearer of the sword” in Arabic — sprang up in the early 1990s as an offshoot of another, larger Islamic insurgent group.
The federal government, which considers Abu Sayyaf to be a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaida, says its ostensible goal is the establishment of an Islamic state governed by sharia law in the southern portion of the Philippines archipelago.
Trudeau also described an exchange of condolences with British prime minister David Cameron — Ridsdel was a dual Canadian and British citizen — in which the two leaders agreed it’s time to establish some global ground rules on dealing with ransom demands.
“The U.K. does have a firm position, like Canada, of not paying ransom,” Trudeau said.
“We agreed that it is something that we are going to make sure that we do bring up with our friends and allies around the world as we come to grips with the fact that the world is a dangerous place, and we need to make sure that terrorists understand that they cannot continue to fund their crimes and their violence (by) taking innocents hostage.”
Nonetheless, the issue of whether governments acquiesce to the demands of terror groups has long been murky, and is likely to remain an open question regardless of what Trudeau and his fellow leaders decide.
An al-Qaida letter obtained by The Associated Press three years ago suggests about $1 million was paid for the release of Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler in Niger in 2009.
Fowler, the highest-ranking United Nations official in the African country, and his colleague Louis Guay, were kidnapped and held for four months before being released.
The news agency did not indicate who provided the $1 million for Fowler and Guay.
In a published memoir, Fowler said he did not know if a ransom was paid.
However, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported the deal — brokered by several Western nations working through African intermediaries — involved a prisoner swap and multimillion-dollar payment.
A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable from February 2010 lent credence to the notion Canada makes payments, quoting Washington’s then-ambassador to Mali as saying “it is difficult to level criticism on countries like Mali and Burkina Faso for facilitating negotiations when the countries that pay ransom, like Austria and Canada, are given a pass.”
Journalist Amanda Lindhout, a native of Red Deer, Alta., and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan were seized by young gunmen near strife-torn Mogadishu, Somalia, in August 2008. Both were released in November 2009 after their families paid a ransom.