THE seven Indonesians seized by armed men last week are in the hands of a notorious Abu Sayyaf leader who was also behind the abduction of several Malaysian and Indonesian sailors in the past, a police intelligence report showed.
The intelligence report, seen by The Manila Times, showed that the Indonesian sailors are being held by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) under sub-leader Majal Adja alias “Apo Mike” who is based in Sulu province. The report said Apo Mike and his group are “highly mobile” because they are being pursued by government troops.
The victims, crew of Tugboat Charles 00, were abducted on June 22 off Sulu while en route to Indonesia. A group of armed men boarded the tugboat at 11 a.m. as it neared the Indonesian border.
The armed men forcibly took seven of the 13 crew members and then sped off toward Tawi-Tawi.
The police report identified some of the kidnappers as the Muktadil brothers namely Nickson, Brown and Badung Muktadil and a certain Dadis. The others have yet to be identified.
Shortly after the abduction, the boat captain called his wife and told her that they have been kidnapped. The rebels demanded a ransom of 20 million Ringit.
The intelligence report said the kidnappers and the victims arrived on board two boats at Barangay Lagasan in Parang town in Sulu province at dawn on Thursday.
The Indonesians were then forced to board a red triple-engine “Junkong” type vessel.
Since then, the Abu Sayyaf rebels and their captors have been on the run as the military intensified its operations against the bandit group.
The group of Apo Mike was also behind the abduction of four Malaysian sailors in April.
The victims—brothers Wong Teck Kang, 31, and Wong Teck Chii, 29, their cousin, Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21, and Wong Hung Sing, 34 – were released on June 7 in Patikul, Sulu.
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the families and friends of the victims raised P130 million (RM12 million) for the release of the captives. However, reports said the Abu Sayyaf only received P100 million, fueling suspicion that the rest of the money may have been shared by local officials who are in cahoots with the bandits.
Malacañang on Saturday however said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have yet to come out with specific information on the abduction of the Indonesian sailors.
Citing information from the military, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said government forces are verifying the reported abduction.
“As of late yesterday, we still have no direct and solid confirmation of the report. What we have are reports from Indonesia and an advisory from their military command,” Coloma said, quoting military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.
“The AFP Western Mindanao Command and Philippine Navy are still trying their best to confirm and validate this report,” he added.
His statement came after the Indonesian government confirmed that seven Indonesian sailors were kidnapped at gunpoint earlier this week, and that they were being held hostage by an unknown group.
On Friday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that the abducted sailors were towing a coal barge through the Sulu Sea when their tugboat was attacked by gunmen.
“The government will do everything possible to free these hostages,” Marsudi told reporters.
It’s the third time this year that Indonesian sailors have been abducted in the Sulu sea, a vital waterway that’s seen a spike in seaborne crime like armed robberies and kidnappings.
Last month, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia agreed to launch a coordinated sea patrols to stem the surge of kidnappings.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE