KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Suspected Filipino insurgents seized a Chinese tourist and a hotel receptionist from a dive resort in eastern Malaysia, and then fled on the speed boat they arrived in, Malaysian and Philippine officials said Thursday.
The kidnapping late Wednesday underscores the persistent security threats in Sabah state, a popular tourist destination and dive spot that is a short boat ride from the southern Philippines, which has long been home to a dangerous mix of Muslim militants and kidnap gangs.
It could also complicate already strained relations between China and Malaysia over Kuala Lumpur's hunt for a jetliner that disappeared March 8 with 153 Chinese citizens on board.
Six men armed with pistols raided the Singamata Reef Resort, according to a police report forwarded to The Associated Press by a security official. It said the Chinese victim was a 28-year-old woman from Shanghai, while the receptionist was a 40-year-old Philippine national.
The Singamata is a midrange resort popular with Chinese tourists in the Semporna district of the state. It has cottages on stilt over the water.
A receptionist at the hotel declined to comment, as did police in the district.
The attackers were believed to be from the Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino militant Muslim group that has been implicated in seaborne kidnappings for ransom in the region before, said a Philippine intelligence official who didn't give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Last November, suspected Abu Sayyaf militants shot and killed a Taiwanese tourist and kidnapped his wife from a resort in the Semporna area. The woman was released a month later in the southern Philippines. Authorities didn't say whether a ransom was paid. Such deals are normally not immediately disclosed to the media, if at all.
The Abu Sayyaf had tenuous historical links to international militant networks, including al-Qaida, but a U.S.-assisted Philippine military crackdown on the group's heartland in Sulu province in the southern Philippines has weakened it considerably in recent years. The group has around 300 fighters and is more focused on ransom kidnappings than the global jihadi cause.
Militants are holding more than a dozen captives, including two European bird watchers who were seized from Tawi-Tawi province in 2012.
In 2000, Abu Sayyaf gunmen crossed the porous maritime border with Malaysia in speedboats and snatched 21 European tourists and Malaysian and Filipino workers from Malaysia's Sipadan diving resort and brought them to the southern Philippines, where the captives were released in exchange for ransom. Malaysian authorities, worried that the kidnappings have tarnished the country's image as a tourist destination, have beefed up security and patrols along the sea border.
Gomez reported from Manila, Philippines. Associated Press writer Chris Brummitt in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.