An Oblate priest was shot to death on Tuesday when he resisted armed men who attempted to kidnap him from his mission in the southern Philippines.
The murder could reflect growing terrorist influence in the country.
UCA News reports that Father Jesus Reynaldo Roda, 53, was praying in the chapel of Notre Dame of Tabawn school when armed men “barged in” and tried to take him away.
Father Ramon Bernabe, who is Fr. Roda’s superior, wrote in a report sent to UCA News that Father Roda “struggled and resisted” the attackers, and “explicitly said that he preferred to be killed right there and then.”
Fr. Roda was beaten and then shot dead. Fr. Bernabe reported the attackers stole some valuables from the office before they fled. A male Muslim teacher at the school was reportedly forced to leave with the gunmen.
Reuters reports that local authorities suspect the militant Muslim group Abu Sayyaf in the attacks.
Senior Superintendent of Police Wyneright Taup told reporters that Father Roda “has been receiving threats from the Abu Sayyaf but he has refused our offers to provide him with police guards.”
Though largely Catholic, the Philippines also has a Muslim minority in the south that has been fighting for self-rule.
An army intelligence officer claimed the attack on the priest, the third missionary killed in the region since 1997, indicated the growing influence of radicals from al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah on Abu Sayyaf, which is now led by a new Libyan-trained leader Yasser Igasan.
The army officer to Reuters that the militant group, which in recent years would only kidnap for ransom, was “going back to the basics,” returning to its early 1990s practice of attacking Catholic churches, priests, nuns, and Protestant missionaries.
“Igasan is trying to consolidate his control over the Abu Sayyaf and is trying to win support from Muslim communities by hitting religious targets, such as priests," the officer said. "He is trying to heighten the religious conflict.”