Ex-Malaysian hostage shares ordeal with Abu Sayyaf


Nazarrudin Saidin, who was recently released after being kidnapped in Mindanao about a year ago, talks during an interview at his home in Sungai Buloh near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Tuesday. AP

SUNGAI BULOH, Malaysia—A Malaysian wildlife trader held captive by suspected Abu Sayyaf extremists for a year in the southern Philippines says he saw group members as young as 15 skilled in using M16 rifles that were prevalent in the impoverished region.

Nazarrudin Saidin’s account in an interview with The Associated Press gives a rare glimpse into the operations of the al-Qaeda-linked militant group, blamed for many ransom kidnappings, bomb attacks and beheadings over more than two decades.

It also details an ordeal that started in May of last year when masked gunmen abducted Nazarrudin on the Philippine island of Jolo, moving him to hideouts on other islands over the following 12 months. He escaped at one point and hid in a mangrove, only to return to his kidnappers out of hunger — “I felt like I was on the verge of dying.” He finally escaped to safety two weeks ago.

“I saw teenagers as young as 15 walking around in the villages with M16 rifles and pistols,” Nazarrudin said in a small, run-down home just north of Kuala Lumpur, where he lives with his wife, six children and parents near a palm oil plantation.

“Sometimes they practiced shooting in the jungle and seemed skillful in handling the weapons,” he said, adding that he believed they were Abu Sayyaf members.

A 2011 UN report said other former Abu Sayyaf captives also have reported children in the group’s ranks, but that the claims “could not be verified owing to security constraints.” Photographs and TV footage taken inside Abu Sayyaf camps have appeared to confirm the presence of armed teenagers.

Abu Sayyaf has not commented publicly on child soldiers, but other militant Muslim groups in the Philippines have described a policy of admitting youths as young as 15 as trainees, while requiring them to be 18 before engaging in combat.

Abu Sayyaf’s stated goal is a separate Islamic state in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines, though its fighters from impoverished villages are attracted more by ransom money than ideology.

US-backed military strikes have weakened the group, which now numbers about 400 by military estimates, but it’s still considered a threat to regional security and is currently suspected in the kidnapping of a former Australian soldier and a Japanese.

Nazarrudin said he saw only light weapons and machetes among his captors. He was mainly held indoors and did not know who the Abu Sayyaf leaders were. Nazarrudin said he rarely saw regular villagers, but his captivity for long stretches in various places indicated the extremists still had the tacit support of communities in the region.

“I told them many times that I am not a rich man but they wanted money. They said they are poor and oppressed by their government but (I believe) as Muslims, they shouldn’t do such things,” he said.

The Abu Sayyaf raised $704,000 in 11 kidnappings in 2010 and killed six Filipino hostages whose families failed to pay a bounty, according to a government threat assessment obtained by The AP last year.

Nazarrudin, a former truck driver, apparently went to Jolo to obtain geckos, which are used in many Asian countries for medicines and tonics and are popular in the global pet trade.

He was sleeping in a friend’s house one night when gunman stormed in and took him. He was handcuffed and forced to walk for hours in the dark to a village in the jungle, where he was kept in a hut. His captors removed his handcuffs after two weeks and fed him vegetables and sometimes fried rice.

After four months, Nazzarudin said he heard bombing sounds from afar. He was taken by speedboat to a fishing village on another island and held in a bamboo house on stilts near the sea.

A Philippine military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment to the media, said the extremists would not likely have harmed Nazarrudin because of concerns it may prompt a backlash against thousands of Filipinos working nearby in Malaysia’s eastern Sabah state on Borneo island.

But knowing his family couldn’t afford what his captors said was a ransom of P5 million ($116,000), Nazarrudin sneaked out early one morning and ran as fast as he could.

He hid in a mangrove swamp, trying to avoid snakes and eating raw snails and mud crabs to survive.

“After a month, I felt like I was on the verge of dying. I was very weak and had little energy left. So I surrendered myself. It was better than having to die alone in the swamp,” he said.

Back in the village, he was surprised to see another hostage at the house and later found out it was a Malaysian ethnic Chinese fish trader. They were later joined by a third captive — Biju Kolara Veetil from India — but were allowed to speak to each other only after a few weeks.

Veetil told Nazarrudin he was abducted while visiting his wife’s hometown in Sulu province. Police have said they are trying to verify intelligence reports that Veetil might have been killed even after a ransom was paid.

The three men were moved to a swamp area after the militants heard about a possible sting operation by Philippine troops. Guarded by eight gunmen, they camped there for weeks before returning to the village.

Nazarrudin was later taken to another island while the other two captives remained behind. After several weeks, he was brought back to Jolo to another secluded hillside village, where he escaped for the second time.

The gunmen pursued him for hours, firing warning shots into the air and furiously calling out for him. He eluded them, trekking for three days to a village where he met someone who helped him secure a nearly 10-hour boat ride to Sabah.

Last week, Nazarrudin flew back to Kuala Lumpur for a tearful family reunion.

“This experience has made me a better man but I will never return to the Philippines again,” he said.

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  • TreadLikely

    Really wish they could deal with these rebels first before promoting our tourist areas. They need to ensure their safety first; these trouble makers are doing nothing but scaring away potential visitors.

  • CyberPinoy

    Madali lang tapusin yan abu sayaff, the militar should buy alot of UAV and in the style of Afghanistan predator drone they should patrol the islands then fire missiles to the bandits without mercy.  

    • PHtaxpayer

      That’s really ignorant.  

      According to the report, there are only 400 Abu Sayaff but if you start bombing them, that will increase to thousands.  Even the Americans know in Afghanistan that the right strategy in counter-insurgency is not to use bombing like the Russians did in Afghanistan in the 1980’s and the US did to Vietnam.  That will only turn the whole population against you.

      The right strategy to counter insurgency is relatively simple…take care of the villagers, especially women and children, give them free education, medical support, livelihood and rights to their land and you will remove the need to become rebels.

      The PH should not field soldiers in Mindanao that are not from the area.  They should recruit indigenous people, who have more of a stake in the security and peace, to police their area and provide security for their own without encouraging warlordism as in the case of Maguindanao and other areas.  

      This the problem of Mindanao – the govt still operates like the Medieval Ages and there is no democracy and public service despite the fact that Mindanao has the richest natural resources.  The national govt, landlords and politicians just rape Mindanao for their own coffers and very little, if any goes back to the people there.

      Take Malampaya, Palawan only receives very little of the revenues while the national govt takes the bulk of the billions of dollars of income. Huge multi-national companies are operating in Mindanao but are the local people there getting their share? No.

      Basically the problem of Mindanao is greed and poverty, not terrorism as the US would like us to believe.  We need to look at the real issues why people are still poor when there is enough richness to go around.

      • CyberPinoy

        @PHtaxpayer:disqus  its easier said than done, these people are lured by easy money they will not surrender their lucrative jobs of kidnapping.  Most people in the island are either relatives of abu sayaff or patronize them.   I say lets follow the strategy of israel to Hamaz, we need targeted assasination of terrorist. when the UAV drones patroling the area see an armed group other than our army they should fire at will..  That is how the americans before pacified the area, thru guns and scorch earth method.  

        sorry to arrived in this conclusion but im already fed up with this bandits and muslim extremist. I think its the only way!

      • Marko

         Yes agreed, you can not change a person by offering free school, livelihood etc… I don’t believe that these people will change, some may and some may not. As long as the word “disagree” exists we’ll never achieve unity and peace.

      • Renan jay Ferren

        Education for new generation will be good! No Philippines goverment put really good effort in Mindanao yet….
        No one give right budget for peace project! Billions of money we can have if only goverment make if it will be plan well!

        War for many decades already…. But no philippines goverment spend a real money for infrastructure,education!
        Loads of Muslim in mindanao don’t want war…. Only about 0.05%
        But no real solution since goverment don’t have a plan to do it!
        War will just killed the father but the next generation will follow + can recruit more members! But educating and feel from Mindanao that the goverment care for them is really a good progress

      • PHtaxpayer

        Nope, your way has been tried and doesn’t work.  Before Hamas, there was the PLO but until now, Israelis is under intense threats, more deadly and sophisticated than before.

        You have to look at history and understand geopolitics and cultures.  The modern way of thinking is completely different from the past.

        You know why China is the fastest growing power?  It’s cuz they have the history but they know the strategies while we don’t know both.  Mao said something like, “weapons don’t win wars, people win wars”.  When the US threatened him with the atomic bomb in 1950, he said, “the atomic bomb is a paper tiger.  We have the spiritual bomb!” and proceeded to march 2 million men army thousand miles on foot over mountains to Korea and route the 8th Army of the US, the most modern army at that time.

        You cannot keep doing the same mistakes and expect to get it right.  That’s just plain ignorance and stubbornness.

      • Renan jay Ferren

        I agree to you…. Need more open for Mindanao! Is not a place like more Filipino from Luzon and visayas think!
        Mindanao give a lots of budget for Philippines but no share in goverment project since all senators and big officials from Luzon and visayas!

        More project,road,education will be good against this! At the same time more equipment and military presence but don’t engaged in war incase it needed

        Slow but surely!

        More conflict will cause just trouble since Muslim can easily ask rich Muslim countries for fund!
        Be friends and let them know that we are same position! Improvement of Mindanao/ philippines

  • athenapallas

    Something is wrong with the title of this article – the context would render it as though the victim is sharing it with Abu Sayyaf like in the context that they are sharing a bread, for example. Maybe a better title is: Ex-Malaysian hostage shares ordeal during captivity by Abu sayyaf.


    To Nazarrudin, I am glad that you are safe.  Actually, you should be happy that you experienced first hand what it’s like to be kidnapped.  That is a once in a lifetime experience.  You had all expenses paid, food and lodging, and a nice experience in the provinces of the Philippines.  So I hope you had fun while you are here.

    • spiritnsoul700

      Calling for your Attention Abu Sayyaf, terrorists and kidnappers in the Philippines . It is time to cease kidnapping on foreign tourists, as apparrently there are more “poor” than rich foreign tourists visiting The Philippines.

      You are actually making a loss bussiness revenue instead of  generating profits when you kidnap foriegn tourists as their governments has made it clear that they will not pay ransom money for their citizens hostage

      So you need to revamp your “kidnapping” bussiness structure, i would suggest that you turn your atenttion to filipino like DIGOYBULOY instead, After all it is so much easier as you just need to work out ransom money with his families It is cost saving and time saving as well, Matter of fact you saved alot more when you kidnap filipino like him.. There is also more likely chances of getting ransom money when you kidnap filipino like DIGOYBULOY than from foreign tourists.

      Who siad filipinos are poor? they have money and savings, They have the largest shopping mall in Asia and filipinno like him  DIGOYBULOY have cash on hand and love to shop


        LOL, just relax SPIRITNSOUL, you are obviously a foreigner and scared of being kidnapped.  I can hear you trembling from here.  You know, the Abu Sayyaf is not as stupid as what you foreigners make them out to be.   In the above story, Nazarrudin claims he had “escaped” at one point and I just laugh at the thought of this.  I’m sure he was ALLOWED to escape.  The Abu Sayyaf knows the jungle like the palm of their hands.

        As for your plea to ask the Abu Sayyaf to kidnap fellow Filipinos.  They know better to target foreigners to bring in more foreign investments.

      • spiritnsoul700

        lol , needlesss to worry DIGOYBULOY, im pulling your legs too. Btw .Ive been to Mindanao countless time,  so no worries bro. 

        Salamat bro


  • jhujaejyt

    The Malaysian thought Philippines is only Mindanao…..

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