By Hader Glang & Roy Ramos
ZAMBOANGA CITY, (AA): A militant group has demanded a ransom of around $1 million for the release of 10 Indonesians whose vessel was hijacked off the southern Philippines, officials said Tuesday.
Indonesia’s National Intelligence Agency chief said that P$50 million had been demanded by the captors, who are believed to also be holding an Indonesian-flagged barge carrying 7,000 tons of coal.
“The crew are being held hostage but treated well. The hijackers asked for a ransom,” The Jakarta Post quoted Sutiyoso — many Indonesians use one name — as saying.
Alongside the barge, the gunmen also hijacked a tugboat — reportedly found on Languyan island in the Philippines’ Tawi Tawi province — over the weekend.
A Philippine military intelligence source who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak with media told Anadolu Agency that 15 Abu Sayyaf gunmen and 10 Indonesians had arrived by speedboat at Kalingalan Caluang town in Sulu province.
He cited villagers as saying that the speedboat came from Languyan, and the Abu Sayyaf members hired a jeep and traveled to the residence of a sub-leader named Junior Lahab, alias Jim Dragon.
He underlined that military forces in Sulu “are now arming themselves to the fullest to meet the new crisis.”
The military has been conducting operations against the group — which has pledged allegiance to Daesh — including a major offensive during the Lenten Season in Al Barka town of nearby Basilan province.
Last week, a major Abu Sayyaf camp was captured and three Abu Sayyaf militants killed in clashes that also saw seven soldiers injured, according to Tejares.
He said Tuesday that security forces are continuing intensive operations in Sulu and Basilan — known Abu Sayyaf strongholds — aimed at rescuing several hostages including two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipino woman kidnapped in September.
Earlier this month, a video posted on Facebook showing the three thin, bearded and handcuffed men appealing to their governments for help, saying that if their kidnappers’ demands for P1-billion ($21.3 million) ransom for each hostage are not met they will be killed April 8.
Other foreign hostages believed to be held by Abu Sayyaf-linked groups include a Dutch man abducted more than three years ago in Tawi-Tawi and a former Italian priest seized last year.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf — armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles — has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.
[Map of Philippines By US Government/Wikimedia]