ZAMBOANGA CITY: Authorities on Thursday beefed up security in the southern region of Mindanao a day after a Chinese tourist and a Filipino hotel worker were abducted by gunmen in a Malaysian resort in Sabah.
At least five gunmen raided the Singamata Adventures and Reef Resort on Wednesday night in Semporna town and abducted Gao Huayun, 29, a tourist from Shanghai. The gunmen also seized a Filipino woman working at the resort but her identity was not immediately known.
The Associated Press reported late on Thursday that the kidnappers were members of the Abu Sayyaf.
The Abu Sayyaf was previously blamed for many cross-border kidnappings in Sabah, which is being claimed by the Sultanate of Sulu. The gunmen fled in a motorboat.
Sulu police chief Abraham Orbita said they could not say this early if the Abu Sayyaf was behind the daring attack on the dive resort.
He added that they have alerted police commanders in the province about the incident and ordered them to tighten security and stay vigilant while building up intelligence about the possible involvement of the Abu Sayyaf.
“We are aware of the incident and we have a report about this and police forces have been alerted and told to step up their security and intelligence gathering to determine if the Abu Sayyaf was involved in the abductions,” Orbita told The Manila Times.
The abductions came at a time of heightened tensions between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing over the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
They added to growing concern over security in the southern Philippines after last year’s bloody armed assault by Islamic guerillas in Mindanao.
The latest incident saw the two women being taken around 10:30 p.m. after the resort in eastern Sabah was raided by up to six gunmen.
Gao, who was there on a holiday with about 60 other tourists from China, is believed to have been taken from her room and forced into a boat, a report said.
The 40-year-old Filipino was not named and it is unclear how she was taken.
The women were discovered missing after the resort, which is built on stilts near the town of Semporna, ordered a roll call as police arrived minutes after the gunmen fled.
No resort staff could be immediately reached for further comment, while Sabah police chief Hamza Taib said he was on his way to Semporna and would have more details later.
The Chinese consulate in Borneo was unavailable for comment.
The eastern part of Sabah — whose pristine dive sites are a top tourist attraction — has seen several kidnappings despite increased security.
In 2000, armed Filipino gunmen took 21 hostages at the internationally renowned scuba diving destination of Sipadan island, including 10 tourists from Europe and the Middle East.
The South China Morning Post, which also ran a breaking of story of the raid, interviewed the hotel manager who said that six armed men barged into the resort and seized one of the Chinese tourists staying there and also their Filipina employee.
“The hotel manager, who asked to be identified only as Vicky, said five to six armed men burst into the hotel around 10.30 p.m. on Wednesday, leaving by boat within minutes.
By Thursday morning, all 61 guests—59 of them from mainland China—had decided to leave the resort,” the report said.
China pressed Malaysia on Thursday to rescue the Chinese tourist, further straining relations already tested by the crisis over missing Flight MH370.
Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak said the attack could be an attempt to stir up more trouble between China and Malaysia.
“The government does not rule out the possibility that the kidnappings in Semporna were done by certain parties to muddy Malaysia-China relations,” Najib was quoted saying by a Malaysian news agency.
In November last year, suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen also raided the island resort of Pom Pom off Semporna town and shot Hsu Li Min, 57, and dragged his wife Chang An Wei, 58, into a waiting boat and fled before security forces could arrive.
The woman was freed a month later in the southern Philippine town of Talipao.