Police found a severed head in the southern Philippines on Monday and are examining whether it belonged to a Canadian hostage who is believed to have been beheaded by Abu Sayyaf militants after a ransom deadline passed, officials said.
The hostage, Robert Hall, was abducted from a marina last September along with another Canadian, a Norwegian and a Filipino. The other Canadian, former mining executive John Ridsdel, was beheaded in April.
Police Superintendent Junpikar Sitin said troops found the head late Monday in a plastic bag on a street in Jolo town in Sulu province.
"Our troops thought it was a bomb but found out it was a head," Sitin said by telephone from Jolo, a poor, predominantly Muslim region.
In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there is "compelling reason to believe" that Hall had been killed by his captors, and that the Canadian government is working with Philippine authorities to confirm his death.
"We have every reason to believe that the reports are unfortunately true," Trudeau said in the foyer of Parliament.
He said he was "horrified" by the killings and reaffirmed Canada's refusal to pay ransoms.
"The government of Canada will not and cannot pay ransoms for hostages to terrorist groups, as doing so would endanger the lives of more Canadians," Trudeau said in a statement.
"We are more committed than ever to working with the government of the Philippines and international partners to pursue those responsible for these heinous acts and bring them to justice, however long it takes."
Trudeau recently urged leaders of other members of the Group of Seven rich nations to reiterate their opposition to paying ransoms.
After being abducted from the marina on southern Samal Island on Sept. 21, the hostages were taken by boat to Sulu, where the Abu Sayyaf has held hostages for years in mountainous jungle camps.
Ridsdel was beheaded on April 25 after a ransom demand of 300 million pesos ($6.3 million) was not paid.
In an Abu Sayyaf video posted on YouTube last month after Ridsdel's death, Hall and the two other hostages, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipino woman Marites Flor, pleaded to Canadian and Philippine officials to negotiate their release.
"We live like this every day, go to bed like this," Hall said, raising his arms to show that he was handcuffed. We have a hundred people heavily armed around us all the time that dictate to us and talk to us like children. We've been humiliated in every way possible. One of us has already been murdered."
Hall spoke later in the video for a second time, sounding resigned to a tragic fate.
"I would also like to thank my family for the effort they put in — my family and friends for the effort they put in — to get me out of here. I know you did everything you can, and I truly appreciate it. I'm sorry I got you in this mess," he said.
Trudeau extended his "heartfelt condolences" to Hall's relatives and friends.
"They have suffered a terrible loss, and this is a devastating moment for them. Our thoughts are with them as they mourn this tragedy," he said.
The United States and the Philippines have both listed the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for kidnappings, beheadings and bombings. The brutal group emerged in the early 1990s as an extremist offshoot of a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion in the country's south.