SUSPECTED Abu Sayyaf bandits snatched four Malaysians from a vessel that was transiting the coast of Semporna in Sabah on Friday evening.
The Western Mindanao Command forces is tracking down the whereabouts of four Malaysians who were reportedly seized late Friday by Abu Sayyaf Group in Semporna, Malaysia.
Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, said on Saturday the military was trying to verify the incident after receiving word from Malaysian authorities.
“We confirm receiving reports of this incident, but information remains sketchy at the moment and efforts are being exerted to ascertain all details,” Tan said.
Tan said they have coordinated with their Malaysian counterparts “but details of which we are not at liberty to divulge.”
“In the meantime, Westmincom forces remain on alert and have taken appropriate action/operations to address the situation,” he added.
The latest kidnapping of the four Malaysians came barely a week after ASG bandits abducted 10 Indonesians off Tawi-Tawi waters.
The Indonesians were on a tugboat Brahma 12 towing a barge containing 7,000 tons of coal heading for Batangas Port when Abu Sayyaf gunmen snatched and took them hostage. The Indonesians were allegedly taken to Sulu from where the abductors contacted the tugboat owner and demanded $1-billion ransom.
Sabah police commissioner Abdul Rashid Harun, for his part, told Malaysia’s official news agency Bernama that authorities were still investigating if the kidnapping occurred in Malaysian or international waters.
“The area is vast and we have our assets there. So we are investigating whether it happened in or off our waters,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama.
“The five other individuals in the ship comprising Myanmar and Indonesian nationals were released.”
There were conflicting reports over whether the boat, the size of which was not immediately known, had been sailing to Malaysia from the Philippines or making the reverse journey.
Many Western and other embassies routinely issue warnings against traveling to most of the Philippines’ Muslim-populated southern regions, which lie just northeast of Sabah, because of the risk of being abducted by the Abu Sayyaf.
On Tuesday, officials said that 10 Indonesian sailors had been kidnapped in waters off the southern Philippines. The incident was believed to have happened last Saturday.
The Philippine military said initial information indicated the sailors may have been taken by an Abu Sayyaf faction to Sulu, a remote southern island that is a hideout of the militant outfit.
Someone claiming to be from Abu Sayyaf called the vessel’s owners to demand a ransom for the sailors’ release.
Meanwhile, the safety of the three European hostages already in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf has become more uncertain even as the April 8 deadline for the payment of their ransom nears.
The ASG has threatened to kill Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad if their P1-billion demand is not met. The four were kidnapped at the Ocean View Resort in Samal Island in Davao del Norte.
Last year, Malaysian Bernard Then was kidnapped from a seaside restaurant in Sabah, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) from the Abu Sayyaf’s Jolo stronghold. He was later killed by the group.
The Abu Sayyaf has staged cross-border raids into Malaysia before, including in April 2000 when gunmen seized 21 European and Asian tourists from a dive resort. They were released in batches after the presumed payment of ransom the following year.
Founded in the 1990s with the help of late Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden, the Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for some of the Philippines’ worst terror attacks, including bombings and kidnappings for ransom.
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