At least 21 people, including local politicians and journalists, were brutally massacred after being abducted in southern Philippines on Monday, said the country’s military.
The killings, according to reports, are believed to be a result of a political rivalry ahead of next year’s national elections.
“Troopers have reached the area where the vehicles and those held were taken… they were shot by the armed men,” said regional military chief Major General Alfredo Cayton in a radio interview.
Without confirming identities of those behind the bloodshed, Cayton said searches were on to locate others.
Earlier, armed forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner said gunmen linked to a powerful politician had seized 40 people, including political rivals and 20 local journalists.
Brawner confirmed the deaths of 21 people — including 13 women — and said that the toll was likely to rise.
Gunmen seized several Esmael Mangudadatu’s supporters as they were accompanying him to a local election office to file his candidacy for governorship of the predominantly Muslim Maguindanao province in the May 2010 vote.
The Mangudadatu clan is known to have a long-running feud with the family of Maguindanao’s present governor Andal Ampatuan, who according to the local police controls his own private army, say media reports.
“We suspect Ampatuan as being behind this,” Esmael Mangudadatu’s brother, Khdadafeh told French News Agency AFP.
“His son, Andal Ampatuan Jnr, is supposed to run for governor and he had already made an earlier announcement that we would be killed if (Esmael) filed the candidacy for governor.” He said.