'Large ransom' demanded by Sandakan kidnap gunmen: Sabah police

Gunmen believed to be holding two Malaysians, who were kidnapped from the Ocean King seafood restaurant (pictured) just outside Sandakan town in Sabah, have contacted the victims' families with demands for a "large" ransom, said police. --
Gunmen believed to be holding two Malaysians, who were kidnapped from the Ocean King seafood restaurant (pictured) just outside Sandakan town in Sabah, have contacted the victims' families with demands for a "large" ransom, said police. -- PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KOTA KINABALU (The Star/Asia News Network) - Gunmen believed to be holding two Malaysians kidnapped from a restaurant in Sabah have contacted the victims' families with demands for a "large" ransom, said police in the eastern Malaysian state.

The sum demanded by the gunmen was "large", said Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman, according to a report published by The Star online on Sunday. It said Jalaluddin declined to state the amount.

He said the victims, restaurant manager Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, and electrical consultant Bernard Then Ted Fen, 39, were allowed to speak to with their family members.

The two were abducted from the seaside Ocean King seafood restaurant, some 3km from Sandakan town, on Thursday by gunmen suspected to be linked to Philippines' Abu Sayyaf militants.

Four men, one of whom was armed with an automatic rifle with bullets strapped to his chest and another with a pistol, burst into the restaurant at about 7.40pm on Thursday, bundled off the two Malaysians and fled in less than a minute. They the left in a boat, according to restaurant owner Chung Yan Tsim, who is Ms Thien's brother-in-law.

The two were now believed to be held at a southern Philippines island.

"They are unharmed," said Jalaluddin, adding that the families of the two had refused to lodge police reports about the ransom demand calls.

When asked whether the families were issued threats of not involving the police to secure the their release, Jalaluddin said: "I am not aware of such threats."

He said prior to the incident, Malaysian security forces had been on the alert after receiving information that kidnap for ransom groups were planning to stage an abduction in Sandakan.

Jalaluddin said the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), led by Deputy Comm Rashid Harun, had been carrying out security operations at various "hot spots" and areas known to harbour illegal immigrants in the east coast district.

"Unfortunately, the abduction occurred in an unanticipated area," he added.

Jalaluddin said police and Esscom officials were reviewing their strategies to ensure such an incident did not recur.

He said an ongoing 7pm to 5am sea curfew in six east coast districts had been extended until June 2.