SEMPORNA - The two foreign women abducted by Abu Sayyaf gunmen from Singamata Reef Resort here are alive and well and are being held on an island in southern Philippines.
Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) director-general Datuk Mohammad Mentek said based on intelligence, the two - Chinese national Gao Huayun, 29, and Filipino resort worker Marcy Darawan - are "well".
Esscom, he said, had identified the location where the two hostages are being held as well as the identity of the kidnappers.
One of the kidnappers is believed to be also involved in the abduction of a Taiwanese woman on Nov 15 in Pom Pom Island.
"The rest are said to be linked to the Sipadan island kidnapping (of 21 people) in 2000," he said in a statement here yesterday.
"We believe that this particular 'kidnap for ransom' group is active and aggressive in the southern Philippines," said Mohammad, adding that the local Filipino community might have provided information to the gunmen.
Mohammad said 15 of the resort's foreign workers had been detained for not having valid documents.
The Immigration Department, he said, had been directed to carry out a full investigation and take action, including charging the resort operator, for employing foreigners without valid documents.
"We cannot compromise any more. We have given enough advice and reminders to all operators in the area yet so many refuse to adhere," he said. Mohammad said before Wednesday's incident, security forces had managed to thwart some five boats that were attempting to get into Semporna on March 26.
"The presence of our forces in the area managed to stop four of the boats from entering Semporna waters," he said.
He did not elaborate if the fifth boat was the one used in the raid at the Singamata resort.
In a related development, police are zeroing in on four employees of the resort said to have provided key information to the seven gunmen.
However, they have yet to establish if Marcy, 40, was targeted by the gunmen.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib confirmed that three women and a man aged between 20 and 50 have been arrested for questioning.
In the incident, Marcy was grabbed from her room first before Gao.