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April 7, 2014

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Kidnappers call Shanghai tourist’s family

KIDNAPPERS holding a Chinese tourist abducted from a resort on Borneo have phoned her family in Shanghai, a Malaysian senior security official said yesterday.

Philippine security forces believe Gao Huayuan, 29, is being held on Jolo island in the southern Philippines, and Mohammad Mentek, director-general of the security command in the east of Malaysia’s Sabah state, said the gunmen had been in touch with her family.

The Abu Sayyaf, a small band of militants infamous for kidnapping for ransom, are the prime suspects in last Wednesday’s abduction of the Chinese tourist and a Filipina resort worker, Marcy Dayawan, 40.

Mohammad said Malaysian authorities believe the two hostages are safe. “We hope they will be returned safely to their families as soon as possible,” he said.

Mohammad declined to comment on whether the kidnappers had began ransom negotiations with Gao’s family in Shanghai.

Philippine authorities believe the kidnappers are affiliated with Abu Sayyaf “sub-commander” Murphy Ambang Ladjia, who was involved in a spectacular kidnapping of 21 people from another resort in Sabah in the north of Borneo in 2000.

Twenty of those hostages — many of them Europeans or other foreign tourists — were released within five months, reportedly after hefty ransoms were paid. A final Filipino captive was held until 2003.

Mohammad said security forces had strengthened their presence, with more sea patrols along the coastal waters of Sabah, which are a major diving attraction for foreigners.

“But we are not able to be everywhere all the time since our sea borders with the Philippines are wide and porous,” he said.

The Philippine military said yesterday that troops were intensively searching remote southern islands and surrounding waters for the two female hostages, although there have been no sightings of them or other confirmation of their whereabouts.

The search focused on the Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu islands in the country’s far south which are known hotbeds of the Abu Sayyaf, said regional military chief Lieutenant General Rustico Guerrero.

He said a naval task force had been conducting extensive search and naval blockades of suspected vessels while ground troops had also been deployed.

The military said Abu Sayyaf gunmen on board a speedboat were believed to have taken the women to Simunul, part of the Tawi-Tawi islands and a day’s boat ride across the border.

But Guerrero said the search also covered the nearby Sulu archipelago as well as Basilan, into whose jungles the Abu Sayyaf had taken hostages in the past.

Philippine armed forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said there were “positive leads” in the search.

The Abu Sayyaf have only a few hundred gunmen but have been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history, including kidnappings targeting foreigners.

The group was set up in the 1990s, reportedly with seed money from Osama bin Laden.

Last November suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen kidnapped a Chinese couple from Taiwan at another Sabah resort. The husband was killed during the abduction. His wife was freed after a ransom was paid.

The Abu Sayyaf are believed to be still holding other foreign hostages, including two European birdwatchers abducted in Tawi-Tawi in February 2012.


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