Abu Sayyaf men abduct 2 in Malaysia–officials
The attackers were believed to be from the Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino militant Muslim group that has been implicated in seaborne kidnappings for ransom in the region before, said a Philippine intelligence official who didn’t give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The Chinese woman from Shanghai and the 40-year-old Filipino hotel receptionist were snatched by as many as six unidentified gunmen at around 10:30 pm Wednesday from the Singamata Reef Resort in Semporna.
Malaysian security forces have been put on full alert along with its sea borders with southern Philippines.
Sabah police have yet to make an official statement on the incident though Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) director general Datuk Mohammad Mentek has confirmed the kidnapping.
Details remain sketchy, though it is believed that the tourist was taking a bath in her room when the gunmen forced her out into a boat. It is as yet unclear clear where the resort worker was when she was abducted.
The Singamata is a midrange resort popular with Chinese tourists in the Semporna district of the state. It has cottages on stilt over the water.
A receptionist at the hotel declined to comment, as did police in the district.
There were about 61 tourists from China at the resort at the time of the incident.
One of the tourists at the resort, a newspaper journalist from China, reported that many of the holidaymakers were in their rooms at various parts of the resort when the incident occurred.
The tourist only came to know of it when the management ordered all guest out of their rooms after police arrived minutes after the gunmen fled with their captives.
“A roll call was done and it was only then did they realize the tourist and a resort worker were missing,” he reported.
The kidnapping late Wednesday underscores the persistent security threats in Sabah state, a popular tourist destination and dive spot that is a short boat ride from the southern Philippines, which has long been home to a dangerous mix of Muslim militants and kidnap gangs.
It could also complicate already strained relations between China and Malaysia over Kuala Lumpur’s hunt for a jetliner that disappeared March 8 with 153 Chinese citizens on board.
Last November, suspected Abu Sayyaf militants shot and killed a Taiwanese tourist and kidnapped his wife from a resort in the Semporna area. The woman was released a month later in the southern Philippines. Authorities didn’t say whether a ransom was paid. Such deals are normally not immediately disclosed to the media, if at all.
The Abu Sayyaf had tenuous historical links to international militant networks, including al-Qaeda, but a US-assisted Philippine military crackdown on the group’s heartland in Sulu province in the southern Philippines has weakened it considerably in recent years. The group has around 300 fighters and is more focused on ransom kidnappings than the global jihadi cause.
Militants are holding more than a dozen captives, including two European bird watchers who were seized from Tawi-Tawi province in 2012.
In 2000, Abu Sayyaf gunmen crossed the porous maritime border with Malaysia in speedboats and snatched 21 European tourists and Malaysian and Filipino workers from Malaysia’s Sipadan diving resort and brought them to the southern Philippines, where the captives were released in exchange for ransom. Malaysian authorities, worried that the kidnappings have tarnished the country’s image as a tourist destination, have beefed up security and patrols along the sea border.
Originally posted: 11:28 am | Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
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