Where kidnapping is a lucrative industry

Where kidnapping is a lucrative industry
Above: Gao Huayuan

Using three glasses filled with kahawa (Tausug word for coffee), an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) intelligence officer illustrated how kidnap for ransom groups have streamlined their cross border kidnapping modus operandi.

"Imagine these glasses are cells. First cell will do intelligence gathering in Semporna, the second cell which is also based in Semporna will do the kidnapping and once they reach Philippines waters, they will pass the hostages to the third cell," said the officer at a house of a prominent individual in Jolo town on the notorious Jolo island.

Jolo island - in Sulu province in southern Philippines - is where most of the hostages kidnapped in Semporna in the east coast of Sabah end up.

In 2000, Malaysians took note of Jolo when 21 people - nine Sabahans, two Filipinos and 10 tourists from Europe, South Africa and Lebanon - were kidnapped in Sipadan island in Semporna waters on Easter Sunday and held on the island about the size of Perlis.

The latest victims abducted from Semporna are Gao Huayuan, a 29-year-old tourist from Shanghai, and Marcy Dayawan, a 40-year-old Filipina resort worker.

Filipino gunmen kidnapped them from Singamata Reef Resort at about 10.30pm on April 3.

The kidnap for ransom (KFR) groups have changed their modus operandi, according to Filipino intelligence officers and security experts interviewed by The Star.

"In 2000, a KFR group consisting of 30 armed men travelled in several boats from Sulu to kidnap 21 people in Sipadan and then returned to Sulu.

That was the same modus operandi when they kidnapped 20 people (including three Americans) from Dos Palmas Resort (in Palawan, Philippines) and brought them to Basilan island (about 120km from Jolo island)," said the AFP intelligence officer who did not want to be identified.

Pointing to the three glasses filled with kahawa grown in Sulu, he added: "when you travel in a big group, there is a possibility that the Philippine and Malaysian navies will detect you."

"But when you travel in a small group," he said, holding a single glass, "you don't attract attention."

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