SEMPORNA, Malaysia - Screams for help were heard as gunmen stormed an island resort in Sabah's coastal paradise of Semporna, grabbing two women - a Chinese tourist and a Filipino resort worker - before escaping to the troubled southern Philippines islands.
Gao Huayun, a 29-year-old from Shanghai, and 40-year-old Marcy Dayawan @ Mimi were discovered missing after the seven intruders armed with M14 rifles fled in a speedboat towards international waters.
They grabbed Mimi from her room and snatched Gao as she was on the phone along a verandah outside her room.
An electrician at the resort, Man Lanji, 50, escaped by jumping into the sea as soon as three gunmen confronted him at the Dive Centre room where he was watching television and drinking coffee.
The man jumped out of a window when the three, including one wearing a mask, ordered him to be silent and not move.
From the water, he claimed he saw a boat with four more gunmen.
Resort cook Kalmin Hamid, who was sleeping at the workers' dormitory, said she heard screams for help and sounds of people running on the verandah of the 40-room resort built on wooden stilts on a reef about 4km from Semporna town.
The surprise attack comes a day after the first anniversary of the setting up of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), following the Kg Tanduo intrusion at Lahad Datu on Feb 12 last year.
It also comes just months after a similar kidnapping occurred on Nov 15 at Pom Pom Island Resort in Semporna when Taiwanese businessman Li Min Shu, 58, was killed and his wife Chang An Wei, 57, snatched by gunmen.
She was released after 36 days for an unknown ransom paid through negotiations with the gunmen who held her in the Abu Sayaf stronghold of Jolo in the southern Philippines.
Security officials suspect the latest kidnapping was done by similar groups based along Tawi Tawi chain of islands. They would hand the abductees to the Abu Sayaf groups in Jolo who would then make ransom demands.
It is learned that security forces had been on the alert since Friday but it is believed the group might have slipped in and blended with local communities in water villages around the area before striking.