KUALA LUMPUR: Kidnappers holding a Chinese tourist who was abducted from a resort on Malaysia’s Borneo island have made a phone call to her family in China, a senior security official said on Sunday.
The gunmen have communicated with the family of Gao Huayuan, 29, whom security forces believe is being held on Jolo island in the southern Philippines, Mohammad Mentek, eastern Sabah security command director-general, said.
“They have made contact with her family by telephone,” he added.
The Abu Sayyaf, a small band of militants infamous for kidnapping for ransom, are the prime suspects in Wednesday’s abductions of the Chinese tourist and a Filipino resort worker, Marcy Dayawan, 40.
Mohammad said Malaysian authorities believe the two hostages are safe.
“We hope they will be returned safely to their families as soon as possible,” he added.
Mohammad declined to comment on whether the kidnappers had begun ransom negotiations with the Chinese family.
Philippine authorities also believe that the kidnappers are affiliated with Abu Sayyaf “sub-commander” Murphy Ambang Ladjia, who was involved in a spectacular kidnapping of 21 people from another Sabah resort in 2000.
Military officials said an extensive search operations for the two victims and their captors led by the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) continue in Basilan and Tawi-Tawi provinces.
Lt. Gen. Rustic Guerrero, Westmincom commander, said the operations started on April 3, a day after the kidnapping. He said suspected boats are being intercepted by a naval team.
Guerrero refused to specify which areas are being searched so as not to jeopardize ongoing military operations. But he said authorities focused their search in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu province.
The Westmincom chief explained that their information about the whereabouts of the kidnap victims were based on the tips of military informants and residents. But these are yet to be validated.
“So we cannot categorically say they are here or they are there,” Guerrero said.
The abduction of the Chinese tourist and the Filipino was similar to the April 23, 2000 Sipadan kidnapping wherein 21 tourists were abducted by Abu Sayyaf members and brought to their hideout in Jolo, Sulu.
The Abu Sayyaf is notorious for beheading their victims.
In 2001, it also abducted 20 people at the Dos Palmas Resort on Honda Bay, Palawan, that resulted in the deaths of at least five hostages, including two Americans, Guillermo Sobero and Martin Burnham.
Twenty of those hostages — many of whom were Europeans and other foreign tourists — were released within five months, reportedly after hefty ransoms were paid.
A final Filipino captive was held until 2003.
The Abu Sayyaf has only a few hundred gunmen but has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history, including bombings and kidnappings that have often targeted foreigners or Christians.
The group is believed to still be holding other foreign hostages, including two European bird-watchers abducted in Tawi-Tawi in February 2012.
AFP AND WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL