Philippine policemen inspect a boat allegedly used by the kidnappers of three foreigners and a Filipino on Samal Island on September 28, 2015. (AFP photo)
The United States
has warned Americans to stay away from a southern Philippine region due to the ‘high threat of kidnapping’ of international travelers.
A State Department advisory issued the travel warning for its citizens to defer “non-essential” travel to the Sulu archipelago, as several foreigners have so far been snatched from vessels at sea there.
The warning cited “increased threat of maritime kidnappings against small boats … and violence linked to insurgency and terrorism there.” It also asked Americans to take “extreme caution” elsewhere in the southern region of Mindanao.
The Sulu Province, on the southern island of Mindanao is a stronghold of Daesh-affiliated Abu Sayyaf militants, who are blamed for a surge in kidnappings for ransom in recent weeks.
The militants abducted eight foreigners in the past three years, some from neighboring Malaysia. They killed a Malaysian, but reportedly freed other hostages. The group, however, continues to hold four westerners for large ransoms.
They have also abducted 14 Indonesian tugboat crewmen near the southern Tawi Tawi province and four Malaysians aboard commercial shipping off Malaysia’s Sabah State on Borneo Island.
The terror group is also suspected of holding three Filipinos and 18 foreigners, including two Canadians and a Norwegian.
Established in the early 1990s, Abu Sayyaf is listed as terrorist by both the United States
and the Philippines. It was once regarded as an offshoot of al-Qaeda. Last year, two major commanders of Abu Sayyaf expressed their support for the Daesh Takfiri terrorists based in Iraq and Syria.
In an effort to deter the terrorists, Indonesia has invited foreign ministers of Malaysia and the Philippines to Jakarta on May 3, to discuss a proposal for joint patrols in the area of the recent kidnappings, according to Indonesian Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan.
“We don’t want to see this area become a new Somalia,” Luhut said. Philippine officials, however, did not confirm the meeting, AFP reported.