MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Malaysian authorities have captured eight suspected Abu Sayyaf militants who may have been planning ransom kidnappings in Malaysia, Philippine military officials said Monday, adding that they provided information that helped lead to the arrests.
The Filipino militants were arrested Saturday in Sabah state on Borneo island, were they fled in March due to military assaults on their jungle bases in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, Philippine marine brigade commander Col. Hernanie Songano said.
“It is highly possible that they intend to make Sabah their staging point for their kidnapping activities,” Songano said in a statement. “They know that it will be very difficult for them to launch atrocities in Sulu due to the persistent military operations in the area.”
The suspected militants may have been helping arrange the travel of foreign militants to the southern Philippines, Songano said, without providing further details.
The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have collaborated for years on fighting kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf militants of Malaysians in Sabah and several Indonesian crewmen on cargo vessels along their vast sea border.
Philippine military officials said the suspected militants were led by Abu Sayyaf commanders Sansibar Bensio and Mabar Binda, who were involved in past clashes with the Philippine military, including 2011 fighting in Sulu where a marine officer was beheaded.
The two were allegedly involved in the kidnappings of Swiss citizen Lorenzo Vinciguerra and Dutch national Ewold Horn in the southernmost Philippine province of Tawi Tawi in 2012. The two kidnap victims were taken to nearby Sulu, where Vinciguerra fought with and escaped from his captors in December 2014. Horn was killed while trying to escape during a military assault in May 2019.
The Philippines and the United States both consider the Abu Sayyaf a terrorist organization for bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings. The militants have been weakened considerably by battle defeats, surrenders and infighting but remain a national security threat.