ZAMBOANGA CITY: Abu Sayyaf militants have demanded a P200 million ransom for the release of five Malaysian sailors they kidnapped in Sabah.
Borneo Post reported that one of the hostages, Tayudin Anjut, 45, phoned his employer to say that they are being held captive in Basilan, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.
Anjut said the kidnappers were demanding the ransom for their freedom, but Philippine military and police authorities could not immediately confirm nor deny the report.
The sailors – Abd Rahim Summas, 62, Fandy Bakran, 26, Mohd Zumadil Rahim, 23 and Mohd Ridzuan Ismail, 32, 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 seven Indonesians on June 22 in the Sulu Sea near the Philippines border. The hostages — Ferry Arifin, the tugboat skipper; M. Mahbrur Dahri, Edi Suryono, Ismail, M.Nasir, M.Sofyan and Robin Piter — were last reported seen in Luuk town, local military intelligence reports said.
Their 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. They were eventually released through the intercession of the Moro National Liberation Front.
On Thursday, President Rodrigo Duterte flew to Zamboanga City and Basilan to inspect troops fighting Abu Sayyaf rebels.
Security officials briefed the president on the progress of military operations against the bandits.
In his speech at a military camp in Basilan, Duterte asked everyone to put an end to hatred among all groups, including the Abu Sayyaf.
“I am pleading for peace, even the Abu Sayyaf. You have committed so many crimes, killing people unnecessarily,” Duterte said. “We could not think of anything but the hatred.
The government troops will continue to arrive because of the kidnappings and the killings. That’s the government reaction,” he added.
Under heavy security, Duterte first traveled to Basilan to discuss the security situation in the province with military and police officials.
The President had earlier vowed to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf, linked to international terrorist groups, during his term.
He, however, also raised the possibility of talking peace with the bandits.
Yesterday, Marines raided a suspected Abu Sayyaf hideout and captured three persons and three speedboats in a daring operation near the Sabah border in Tawi-Tawi.
Officials said members of the elite Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) under Col. 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 the kidnappings.
The capture of the trio coincided with the arrest late yesterday of an Abu Sayyaf militant – Bads Adjam alias Abu Jihad – in Santa Maria village in Zamboanga City.
Duterte has ordered an all-out offensive against the Abu Sayyaf. The group beheaded Canadian John Ridsdel in April. On June 13, Abu Sayyaf rebels also executed another Canadian, Robert Hall, after the group’s demand for P300 million ransom was not met.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE