MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) A Filipino working as a hotel receptionist in a Malaysian resort was abducted by at least 6 suspects in Sempora, Malaysia, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said.
According to initial reports from the PNP, the 40-year-old Filipina was abducted along with 29-year-old Gao Huayun, a tourist from Shanghai, China between 10:30 to 11:00 pm on Wednesday, April 2.
The Filipina has been identified by the PNP but Rappler is withholding her identity until the family has been notified.
Police believe the 2 were taken to Bakong Island in Simunul, Tawi-tawi, in the Philippines. Military sources said the suspects are possible members of the Moro National Liberation Front-Misuari faction who have joined the ranks of the Abu Sayyaf Group.
Captain Maria Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson of the military Western Mindanao Command, said government forces were immediately mobilized and deployed in the possible entry points to intercept the kidnappers. “Our naval assets are now deployed in the area,” Muyuela said.
According to a report from Malaysia’s The Star, the women were discovered missing after the Singamata Reef Resort, which is built on stilts near the town of Semporna, ordered a roll call as police arrived minutes after the gunmen had fled.
Gao, who was holidaying with about 60 other tourists from China, is believed to have been abducted from her room and forced into a boat, the report said.
The eastern part of Sabah – whose pristine dive sites are a top tourist attraction – has seen several kidnappings despite increased security.
More than 200 heavily armed followers of a self-proclaimed Philippine sultan landed in Sabah in February 2013, claiming it for their leader. Dozens were left dead after a nearly month-long standoff as Malaysian armed forces moved in to clear out the guerrillas. (READ: ‘No surrender’ in Sabah – Kiram)
In 2000, armed Philippine gunmen took 21 hostages at the internationally renowned scuba diving destination of Sipadan island, including 10 tourists from Europe and the Middle East. – with reports from Agence France-Presse and Karlos Manlupig, Rappler.com