The cowardly murder of a Canadian in the Philippines

We learned today (April 25) that a Canadian citizen, John Ridsdel, was killed by a terrorist group that had been holding him and three others, including another Canadian, a Norwegian and a Filippino, hostage since last September.  The extremist organisation, Abu Sayyaf, had made several demands for ransom and appears to have beheaded Mr.Ridsdel when its last request was not met.

The Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) has been around for decades and is considered one of the most lethal forces in the Philippines, despite its modest size (estimates on the number of adherents range from 200-500).  It shares some goals with other extremist groups in the area such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (which carries the unfortunate acronym MILF), namely an independent Muslim homeland in the southern provinces of the Philippines.  ASG has been fighting the Philippine army for a very long time and has been responsible for several terrorist attacks over the decades.  One of its favourite tactics is the taking of hostages and it has done so very frequently, receiving ransom in some cases and killing its hostages in others.

Historically associated with Al Qaeda (the group’s founder fought with former AQ leader Usama bin Laden in Afghanistan and AQ allegedly sent the group millions in start up funding), several videos surfaced beginning in late 2014 in which members pledged bay’a (allegiance) to Islamic State.  The Philippine government has denied any link between IS and ASG and to my mind the connection is moot.  ASG may have switched mentors only to jump on the IS bandwagon and it is highly unlikely at this point that IS is sending resources or funds to the Philippines.

I want to shift the focus of this blog away from the terrorists’ motives a bit and talk about their method of killing.  Terrorists who belong to Islamist extremist groups like ASG, or IS, constantly portray themselves as Muslim warriors.  They see themselves as the only true Muslims, carrying out war in the name of Allah and in the self-styled pursuit of Islamic purity.  They see all who disagree with them as not only their enemies, but the enemies of Allah who deserve to be slaughtered for not bowing to their perverted sense of faith (other Muslims included: in fact the vast, vast majority of these groups’ victims are Muslims).  If you read any Islamist extremist propaganda you are immediately struck by the martial nature of the vocabulary and imagery.  These terrorists see their methods of dealing out death as part of a long tradition dating back to the early days of Islam.  This explains in part the obsession with beheading.

It is one thing to fight, kill, and die in battle.  It is quite another to behead a defenceless civilian who has no chance of self-defence.  The perpetrators of crimes like this are animals and far from the models of Islam they claim to be. Nowhere in Islamic teachings does it condone the slaughter of innocents: in fact the Quran and the Hadith are very strict on this matter and state categorically that non-combatants should not be killed.  Whatever these guys think they are, heroes of Islam they are not.

I have argued that suicide bombers are not cowards.  Yes, their victims are similarly defenceless but their attackers make the ultimate sacrifice (I wouldn’t have the guts to do what they do).  I stand by that position.  But those that behead belong in a different category: gutless wimps who engage in cold-blooded murder and are never at risk themselves.  They deserve nothing but our rejection and disgust.

I want to join Prime Minister Trudeau in letting the family and friends of Mr. Ridsdel that my thoughts are with them.


By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

Leave a Reply