KUALA LUMPUR - Taiwanese tourist Chang An Wei, who was snatched from an island resort off Sabah, could have been the sole target of her abductors.
The kidnappers might have seen the 58-year-old as a high-profile target because of her link to Christine Chow Mei-ching, wife of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou. They were schoolmates.
She could also have been a target because she and her husband were wealthy, having gone into semi-retirement after selling off their garment factory to travel around the world.
Chang's brother Da Gong told a Taiwan TV news station on Saturday that she and Chow had attended the Tsai Hsing Private School.
"I was also in the same school," he said during the interview.
The gunmen who grabbed Chang and killed her husband in the incident on Friday are believed to have links with the Abu Sayyaf - a band of terrorists with a reputation for financing themselves through kidnappings.
The speculation is that if they had known about Chang's connection to Chow or her wealth, the abductors might have seen an opportunity to get a larger ransom for her release.
About three weeks ago, intelligence sources on both sides of the Malaysian-Philippine waters had reported rumours about an Abu Sayyaf faction in Patikul, Jolo, planning to enter Sabah's east coast waters.
It had also been speculated that Chang's husband Hsu Li Min, 57, was shot dead because he had put up a struggle after realising that the gunmen intended to kidnap her.
Taiwan's The Liberty Times website quoted Hsu's brother Li Ren as saying that Li Min could have been killed because of his burly physique.
It said the gunmen could have opened fire instead of trying to overpower Li Min, who was 180cm tall and weighed about 100kg.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said police believe that Chang is still alive, adding that his officers would work closely with their Philippine counterparts
He said he had also issued a gag order to his officers as her safety was of utmost priority now.