MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Gunmen in the restive southern Philippines abducted Swiss and Dutch tourists and a Filipino bird photographer Wednesday and took the trio away by boat, authorities said.
They were the latest kidnap victims in an impoverished region infested with al-Qaida-linked militants and criminal gangs that often seek ransom for their foreign hostages.
The tourists were snatched along with their Filipino companion by an armed group in the southernmost Tawi-Tawi island province and dragged to a waiting boat, military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said.
The Filipino man later jumped out of the boat and was rescued by fishermen, a local governor said.
The tourists were identified as Dutch Ewold Horn and Swiss Lorenzo Vinciguerra, and they had been visiting the region to photograph wildlife.
The Dutch Embassy in Manila confirmed the kidnapping and said it was working on the case. Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry said the Swiss Embassy in Manila was in contact with Philippine authorities and working to secure the hostages’ release in good health.
Cabangbang said the abduction happened in Parangan village in the township of Panglima Sugala, in the remote islands that make up the province.
The southern Philippines is considered unsafe for foreign visitors and governments have put up advisories against travel in the region. Tawi-Tawi is home to small islands known as Turtle Islands, which are close to Malaysian waters.
Tawi-Tawi Governor Sadikul Sahali told The Associated Press by telephone that the tourists, Filipino bird photographer Ivan Sarenas and their boat skipper were accompanied by a town council member and an unarmed police officer because the foreigners refused armed escorts, Sahali added.
He said the group was overpowered by the five gunmen.
“It has been our practice that we secure Caucasian visitors,” he said. “Next time, if there will be a next time, I will not allow them (foreigners) to go around without armed escorts.”
The gunmen ordered the councilman, the police officer and the boat skipper to jump out of the boat before escaping with the three captives, Sahali said.
He said Sarenas later escaped by jumping off the boat. He was rescued by fishermen and brought to the police in Languyan township.
Sahali said the tourists had arrived about 10 days earlier and stayed most of the time in the mountains to photograph rare birds. They were scheduled to leave Thursday.
Authorities have no suspects and no ransom demand has been made, Sahali said.
He said about two dozen policemen earlier headed to a southern village of Tawi-Tawi, where the foreigners were reported to have been sighted. The military and police cordoned off the area, while marines were mobilized to help in the rescue.
But it turned out the gunmen fled toward northern Languyan township, he added.
Muslim rebels have been fighting for minority self-rule in the predominantly Christian nation’s south for decades. The most violent group, al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf, has been notorious for terrorist attacks and kidnappings for ransom.
Cabangbang said Abu Sayyaf has been active in Tawi-Tawi, coming from their strongholds in nearby Basilan and Jolo islands.
The militants are believed to be holding a former Australian soldier who was kidnapped before Christmas. In January, a video surfaced of him pleading for his life and urging the Philippines and Australia to raise a $2 million ransom being demanded by his captors.