ZAMBOANGA CITY – Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday confirmed that the radical jihadist group Abu Sayyaf was behind the kidnappings of 5 Malaysian tugboat crewmen who disappeared in Sabah near the Philippines border.
Police Inspector-General Police Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters in Malaysia that the sailors are being held by the Abu Sayyaf. No further details were made available by the Malaysian police and Philippine authorities were also silent on the reports.
But the Borneo Post reported last week that suspected Abu Sayyaf militants demanded P200 million in ransoms in exchange for the safe release of the sailors.
It said that one of the hostages, Tayudin Anjut, 45, phoned his employer to say that they are being held captive in Basilan, one of 5 provinces under the troubled Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines.
Anjut said the kidnappers were demanding the ransoms for their freedom, but Philippine military and police authorities could not immediately confirm nor deny the reports.
The sailors – Abd Rahim Summas, 62, Fandy Bakran, 26, Mohd Zumadil Rahim, 23 and Mohd Ridzuan Ismail, 32 – all crew members of the tugboat Seruduna 3, disappeared at sea off Lahad Datu town on July 18.
Their tugboat was recovered by Sabah authorities with its engine still running. The boat was set to return to Semporna after its barge delivered a cargo of stones in Sandakan City also in Sabah, according to the Malaysian media.
The Abu Sayyaf also seized 7 other Indonesian tugboat crewmen on June 22 in the Sulu Sea near the Philippines border and the hostages – Ferry Arifin, the tugboat skipper; M. Mahbrur Dahri, Edi Suryono, Ismail, M.Nasir, M.Sofyan and Robin Piter – were last reported being sighted in Luuk town, local military intelligence reports said.
The boat – owned by PT Rusianto Brothers – was heading to Samarinda in East Kalimantan following a trip from the Philippines when gunmen on speedboats intercepted it. Indonesian media reported that Arifin phoned his wife and told her that they were intercepted at sea by gunmen, who introduced themselves as Abu Sayyaf and were also demanding over P200 million for their safe release.
The Abu Sayyaf previously kidnapped 14 Indonesian tugboat crewmembers in separate attacks at sea off Sabah and brought them to Sulu province and eventually released through the intercession of the Moro National Liberation Front.
Just last week, Philippine Marines raided a suspected Abu Sayyaf hideout in Tawi-Tawi and captured 3 people and three speedboats in a daring operation near the Sabah border.
Officials said members of the elite Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) under Colonel Fernando Gomez launched the operation near Sitangkai Island. A shotgun and ammunition were also seized from the men, who are currently being interrogated to determine if they were involved in cross-border kidnappings.
It was not immediately known whether the speedboats are being used in kidnapping activities in Sabah in Malaysia. No other details were made available by security officials on the raid because the operation is going on, but the ARG includes the BRP Tarlac, the newest ship of the Philippine Navy.
The capture of the trio coincided with the arrest July 21 of an Abu Sayyaf militant – Bads Adjam alias Abu Jihad – in Santa Maria village in Zamboanga City. Adjam has been linked to the 2002 kidnappings of six members of the Jehova’s Witness in Patikul town in Sulu province and 21 mostly European holidaymakers in Sipadan Island off Sabah in 2000.
Officials did not say if Adjam’s arrest was connected to the military operations in Tawi-Tawi, but both provinces are part of the Muslim autonomous region. (Mindanao Examiner)
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