MANILA, Philippines -- Local authorities are searching for a former Italian missionary who was taken by gunmen from his restaurant Wednesday in the southern part of the country known for bandits and terrorist groups, the Associated Press reported.

Rolando del Torchio was dragged from his pizza restaurant in Dipolog City into a van and then onto a motor boat that disappeared into the night, AP reported. Dipolog is in the northern part of Mindanao island. Just last month, two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipino were taken from a resort in the island's south. The four remain missing.

Police, air force helicopters and navy patrol boats are part of the search, though authorities say they don’t know who is responsible.

Del Torchio was a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, improving farmers' skills and teaching them how to organize cooperatives, the report said. He left the group several years ago but remained in the area even after several of its members had been kidnapped or killed, the group's head in the Philippines told AP. He said Del Torchio was "very approachable."

While most of Mindanao is safe and peaceful, parts of it are home to Muslim separatist organizations, as well as terrorist and bandit groups, which have kept the area poor by discouraging investors. A long-running and almost-completed attempt to make peace with the main separatist group is in limbo since January, when 44 soldiers were killed in a shootout that immediately followed the killing of a suspected terrorist in central Mindanao.