World Bulletin / News Desk
Western Mindanao Command’s spokesman said they received reports from Malaysian authorities that five suspected members of a Philippines-based ISIL-affiliated militant group seized the Indonesians off the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah.
"Two Indonesian fishermen boarding a Malaysian-registered fishing trawler were forcibly taken by armed men, whose faces were covered with masks, at around 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 19," Maj. Filemon Tan Jr. said in a statement.
According to reports, the abduction was carried out by Abu Sayyaf members riding on a speedboat who later fled the scene.
Tan said the Command’s chief, Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, alerted troops for “counteraction” and instructed air and naval assets patrolling the area to scour the sea lanes and verify possible docking sites.
"Military intelligence units continue monitoring the area to confirm reports of the Indonesians possibly being landed in Sulu or Tawi-Tawi [island provinces]," he added.
The Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding around 17 foreigners -- including five Malaysians -- and several Filipinos on Sulu.
The military has blamed the group for the recent abduction of six sailors from a Vietnamese-flagged vessel off nearby Basilan island as well as a German man -- whose partner was shot dead -- from a yacht off Sulu.
The busy waterways between the southern Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have become human fishing grounds for groups linked to the Abu Sayyaf -- renowned for beheading victims.
Police and military reports released in the Philippines late last month stated that the Abu Sayyaf had shifted its priorities from abducting foreigners and businesspeople on the mainland to foreign-flagged tugboats and their crews -- many of them Malaysian and Indonesian nationals -- in local shipping lanes.
The reports also revealed that the group made around 353 million pesos ($7.3 million) from kidnap-for-ransom activities in the first six months of this year.
Since 1991, the group -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is among two militant groups in the south who have pledged allegiance to ISIL, prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process between the government and the country's one-time largest Moro rebel group that it could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.