MANILA, Philippines – Muslim militants have brought a Chinese tourist and a Filipino hotel receptionist to their jungle stronghold in the southern Philippines after kidnapping the women from a dive resort in eastern Malaysia early this month, security officials said Friday.
The Philippine officials said that based on numerous intelligence reports and accounts from villagers, the women were now being held by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu, where the extremists have been holding several foreign and Filipino hostages for ransom.
The three officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters about the abductions.
Abu Sayyaf militants kidnapped the 28-year-old Shanghai woman and 40-year-old Filipino from the Singamata Reef Resort in the Malaysian state of Sabah on April 2, then took them by motor boat to the southern Philippines. Sabah, which has many tourist resorts, is just a short boat ride from the Philippines, where many militants and kidnap gangs operate.
Philippine military officials initially reported that the kidnappers and their captives may have been taken to Simunul island in the southernmost province of Tawi Tawi. But a search in the remote region yielded nothing.
Marine spokesman Capt. Ryan Lacuesta said a new search was underway by government forces in Sulu, about 950 kilometres (590 miles) south of Manila, but refused to divulge other details.
Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamid said two weeks ago that the kidnappers were demanding a ransom of 500 million pesos ($11.3 million) for the release of a Chinese tourist. No ransom was asked for the Filipino woman, he said.
Malaysian police have been co-ordinating with their Philippine counterparts to deal with the kidnapping, the latest the Abu Sayyaf has staged in Malaysia. In 2000, Abu Sayyaf gunmen snatched 21 European tourists and Malaysian and Filipino workers from Malaysia’s Sipadan diving resort. The hostages were transported to Sulu, where they were released in exchange for huge ransom.
In November, Abu Sayyaf militants killed a Taiwanese tourist and kidnapped his wife from another Sabah resort. The woman was free a month later in Sulu.
The Abu Sayyaf had links to international militant networks, including al-Qaida, but a U.S.-backed Philippine military crackdown has weakened it considerably in recent years. The group, which is on the U.S. list of terror groups, has about 300 fighters and is now much more focused on ransom kidnappings than global jihad.