Abus release 9 hostages
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Abu Sayyaf gunmen released nine hostages after finding that they were Bajau fishermen who had no money to pay for their ransom, Malaysian and Philippine officials said on Saturday.
The military said the nine men were found walking along a road in Talipao, Sulu, on Friday, three days after they were abducted in waters off Lahad Datu in Borneo on June 18.
The Malaysian news website Star Online reported that one of the fishermen was still missing.
Useless without money
The report said the victims were possibly abandoned in Jolo after kidnappers realized they would not be able to negotiate for a ransom.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Omar Mammah confirmed receiving reports of the rescue mission but did not have immediate details.
The nine were part of 16 fishermen who were in two fishing boats that were plying the waters during curfew hours without a permit on June 18.
Abu Sayyaf gunmen were believed to have taken four of the six crewmen in the first fishing boat and six of the 10 crew members in the second boat.
The remaining six fishermen were earlier rescued by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.
The kidnapping, which came after a six-month lull of such activities, renewed concerns about security threats in Malaysia’s Sabah state, which is a short boat ride from the southern Philippine bases of Muslim militants and kidnapping gangs.
The Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau said the fishing boats, carrying more than a dozen crew members, were approached by two vessels near the Philippine border.
It said the pirates boarded the fishing boats, confiscated documents and kidnapped 10 crew members before sailing toward Sitangkai Island in the Philippines.
The fishermen’s nationalities were not confirmed and Sabah police could not immediately be reached for comment.
A Malaysian official helping to monitor terrorism incidents said Abu Sayyaf militants were the prime suspects and were expected to make ransom demands.
The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted by the United States and Philippine governments as a terrorist organization for carrying out deadly bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings.
Though weakened by battle losses and surrenders, it remains a national security threat.
Trilateral border patrols
The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have bolstered security along their sea border in the last few years to help ease piracy and kidnappings, primarily by the Abu Sayyaf.
But Malaysian media earlier this year cited intelligence reports that gunmen from the group have been plying sea borders at Sabah looking for new hostages to fund their campaign.
Tuesday’s incident followed the kidnapping of a Malaysian and two Indonesian fishermen by the group off Sabah state last December.
Authorities have imposed curfew in some parts of Sabah and planned to further bolster security.
The kidnappings occurred two weeks after Indonesian, Malaysian and Philippine (Indomalphi) authorities announced the holding of joint ground exercises in August.
The trilateral exercise was expected to include a day of training in Mindanao, officials said.
The Indomalphi 2019 exercise was expected to take place on Tarakan Island in Indonesia’s North Kalimantan province and includes training on shooting techniques, officials said.
Delegations from the three countries met in Bali earlier this month. –AP
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