KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Abu Sayyaf militants holding two Malaysian hostages are threatening to behead one of them if no payment is made soon as they move bases amid heavy Philippine troop movements in Jolo island.
According to Filipino and Malaysian sources, the Abu Sayyaf group is facing pressure from the Philippine security forces, which are closing in on them.
Apparently, the gunmen wanted the cash fast as one of the two hostages was slowing them down.
The sources said that Sarawak tourist Bernard Then, 39, had leg injuries and was not able to run with the gunmen during military operations around Jolo.
Mr Then and restaurant manager Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, were snatched from the Ocean King Restaurant in Sandakan on May 14 by a Filipino kidnap-for-ransom group.
They are being held by Abu Sayyaf sub-commander Indang Susukan, who was demanding 30 million pesos (S$921,600) for their freedom.
Families of the two Malaysians have been receiving calls from the Abu Sayyaf group, which has threatened to carry out the beheading.
However, the families have been unable to raise the money and were seeking help from the Prime Minister and chief ministers of Sabah and Sarawak to help intervene and secure their freedom.
According to the sources, the situation turned critical especially after two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina were kidnapped from a Philippine resort in Samal Island on Sept 21.
They are widely suspected to have been brought to Jolo island, though no group has claimed responsibility so far.
Filipino sources believed that they might be held by Abu Sayyaf commander Al Habsi Misaya and another sub-commander from the notorious Sawajan family that triggered intensified security operations in Jolo island.
Though they are from different groups, they are linked to each other. The operations are forcing all of them to be on the run, a source said, citing that Then was slowing them down.
Philippine officials have yet to confirm the whereabouts of the Canadians and Norwegian but they have spotted an abandoned boat believed to have been used by the kidnappers along a village coast in Jolo.
Unlike previous kidnap victims who were mostly hidden in jungle hideouts, sources said the two Malaysians were now being moved all the time to avoid capture by Philippine military or police.