The United Kingdom has advised its citizens against traveling to Sulu Sea and nearby islands off the coast of eastern Sabah, after receiving “unsubstantiated but credible information” from Philippine authorities that the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf may be about to conduct kidnappings.
“Any vessels sailing in this area could be targeted. You should carefully consider travel plans and be especially vigilant at this time,” it said.
“There has been an increase in kidnapping by groups operating in the southern Philippines, some of whom have the ability to conduct kidnaps on the coast of Sabah. Commercial shipping companies have been advised to adopt heightened vigilance when navigating the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Most maritime incidents occur in the Sulu Sea in the area between Sabah (Malaysia) and Mindanao, the Sulu Islands and Palawan (Philippines),” it added.
The advisory also told Britons to refrain from going to the area in Sabah called Kudat to Tawau, including Lankayan, Mabul, Pom Pom, Kapalai, Litigan, Sipadan and Mataking.
“Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Malaysia. Attacks could happen anywhere, including in places visited by foreigners,” the advisory said.
Earlier this week, the United States advised its citizens to avoid Sulu, Palawan, Cebu, and even Bohol after reports that Abu Sayyaf men might kidnap tourists.
The British embassy reminded its citizens that in May 2015, two Malaysian nationals were abducted in Sandakan, one of whom was subsequently murdered.
‘Bato’ downplays threats
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald de la Rosa reiterated on Friday that the police have not monitored terrorist activities in the islands of Palawan.
“The only basis that we have, that there is a terror threat, are the advisories released by the American and British embassies. But other than that, from the PNP, we have not monitored [any terror threats],” de la Rosa told reporters.
The PNP chief said he had ordered Mimaropa police director Wilben Mayor to tighten security in the area.
The AFP Eastern Mindanao Command has raised its alert level following the release of the travel advisories by the US and UK governments.
It said there was a possibility of terrorist groups “shifting and diverting” their operations to Eastern Mindanao.
Puerto Princesa Mayor Luis Marcaida 3rd told The Manila Times that Palawan is safe and that all security measures were in place.
“We are doing our best to make the city safe. All security is in place. We have coordinated with the military, police, Philippine Coast Guard, the National Bureau of Investigation down to barangay (village) and bantay dagat (volunteer sea watchers) to ensure security. Even the businessmen worked with us closely so business and tourism will not be affected,” he said.
“We have upcoming events and the participants from other countries are arriving already. There is no cancellation of booking in hotels and resorts because we assured them that Palawan is safe,” Marcaida added.
Marcaida went to the Puerto Princesa Underground River on Friday to monitor the situation, and noted that tourists were crowding at the Unesco world heritage site.
with DEMPSEY REYES AND RHAYDZ B. BARCIA