SEMPORNA - The cage was empty. They needed a commodity for money. The timing was right on a full moon night.
The tides were high and the gunmen struck at Pulau Pom Pom, off Semporna in the east coast of Sabah on Nov 15.
This is how a former intelligence officer tells on why the Taiwanese couple Hsu Li Min, 57, and Chang An Wei Chang, 58, became victims of a group of Filipino gunmen from southern Philippines.
The kidnap-for-ransom group had no valuable commodity in hand since August, when two victims, Tung Wei Jei and Tung Wee Wei, snatched from a Tambisan bird's nest off Lahad Datu in November last year, became worthless.
Wee Wei, 34, died in captivity while his cousin Wei Jei, 26, escaped during a skirmish between the gunmen and the Philippines military in Jolo island.
The gunmen could have been upset as they received no money for "board and lodging" from the two cousins' kidnapping compared with the 2010 Pulau Sebangkat case, the intelligence officer said.
"They came back to Sabah to fill up their cage," he said.
A huge ransom was paid for the release of two seaweed farm staff kidnapped in Pulau Sebangkat, off Semporna and held in captivity for more than 10 month.
The officer said the kidnap-for-ransom gangs held several other hostages, including foreigners, taken from southern Philippines but none from Sabah. Ransoms collected for victims from across the border were usually much higher than for captives taken from Filipino soil.
Intelligence sources revealed that there would have been some planning and observation of the target area for a couple of weeks with the help of local collaborators or disgruntled resort workers before the strike occurred on Pom Pom Island Resort.