Abu Sayyaf gunmen snatch two more Indonesians

Suspected militants from the small but brutal Abu Sayyaf Islamist group have abducted two more Indonesians off the Malaysian state of Sabah, Philippine security officials said yesterday.

This is the fourth kidnapping reported in two weeks along the porous borders between Sabah and the Philippines' Sulu archipelago, some 1,000km south of the capital Manila. In all, 11 people were abducted in the incidents.

The latest abductions come as the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia prepare to hold joint military training next year to combat terrorist groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf, preying on tourists, fishermen and sailors around their waters. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has also allowed Indonesian and Malaysian forces to pursue the kidnappers into Philippine waters.

Major Filemon Tan, a spokesman for the military's Western Mindanao Command, said in a report yesterday that five Abu Sayyaf gunmen in a speedboat chased and then boarded a Malaysia-registered fishing trawler at around 7.30pm last Saturday off Sabah's Kunak district. They took as hostages the boat's captain Saparuddin Kone and a crewman named Sawal Maryam.

In the past two weeks alone, Abu Sayyaf has captured a German, two other Indonesians and six Vietnamese. The militant group is fairly small with about 400 members, but has been known to behead hostages if ransoms are not received.

On Nov 6, Abu Sayyaf abducted German sailor Jurgen Kantner, 70, from a yacht sailing off Tanjong Luok Pisuk, after killing his wife Sabine Merz. Just hours earlier, two Indonesian fishing boat captains were taken hostage in separate incidents in waters off Sandakan.

On Nov 11, Abu Sayyaf intercepted a Vietnamese bulk carrier passing through a strait of Basilan province, near Tawi-Tawi, abducting six sailors and shooting another.

Since its formation in 1991, the group has abducted about 200 people. Abu Sayyaf has since pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has recognised its chieftain Isnilon Hapilon as a "prince" of mujahideens.

The group officially has a separatist, Islamist agenda, but it has become better known for banditry and tactics that have proved highly effective, raking in large sums of money. For instance, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, was released in September only after a ransom of US$638,000 (S$910,000) was paid.

Since March, Abu Sayyaf gunmen have intercepted slow-moving tug boats towing coal barges in waters near the borders of Malaysia and the Philippines, taking captive more than a dozen Indonesian and Malaysian sailors.

The group still has 16 captives - Mr Kantner, a Dutchman, five Malaysians, two Indonesians and seven Filipinos.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'Abu Sayyaf gunmen snatch two more Indonesians'. Print Edition | Subscribe