Friday, August 10, 2012

April 24, 2000







April 24, 2000, Asian Wall Street Journal, Island Tourists Are Abducted In Malaysia, by Robert Frank,
April 24, 2000, Agence France-Presse, American couple "tired" after escape from gunmen in Malaysia,
April 24, 2000, Agence France-Presse, List of hostages taken from Malaysian resort,
April 24, 2000, The [Singapore] Business Times, Pirates seize hostages from Malaysian diving haven,
April 24, 2000, Bernama, Graffiti Poster on Sipadan Island,
April 24, 2000, Bernama, Pirates' Dens Could Be Located, Says Misuari, by Ali Mamat,
April 24, 2000, Bernama, All Hostages Safe, Says Syed Hamid,16:43pm
April 24, 2000, Bernama, Armed Pirates Take Hostages on Sipadan Island,
April 24, 2000, Bernama, Security forces in hot pursuit of pirates,
April 24, 2000, The Star [Malaysia] Foreigners among 20 held hostage; two escape,
April 24, 2000, Reuters, Gunmen abduct hostages from Malaysian diving haven,
April 24, 2000, Reuters, Malaysia says knows where hostages are held,
April 24, 2000, Reuters, Philippine rebels said using hostages as "shields",
April 24, 2000, Reuters, Philippine rebels said to claim Malaysian kidnap,






April 24, 2000, Bernama, Graffiti Poster on Sipadan Island,
22:50PM

SEMPORNA, April 24 (Bernama) -- Graffiti at a building, believed to house the office of a tour operator on Sipadan Island, is puzzling the islanders and visitors alike.

But they believe the graffiti could shed some lights on the identities of those behind last night's incident where some 20 people, including foreign tourists, were held hostages.

Graffiti like "Abu Sayak", "Jawawi" and "Badain" were found of the wall of the building where four of the hostages were said to be held.

They were written in black and a combination of small and capital letters.

A witness to the incident said a group of four "robbers" entered the building while another stood guard outside.

They ordered four employees in the building to get onto a boat which was anchored not far away from the building.

"This morning, we found the writings on the wall," said the witness.

Before that, the robbers were said to have gone to a resort and threatened the guests, mostly tourists, at the restaurant.

A marine life photographer, Danny K. K. Chin, 48, who has been on the island for nine years, said one of the intruders introduced himself as a policeman and ordered him to surrender his wristwatch and handphone.

"I thought he was joking...but when he pointed his gun to my head, I knew he wasn't. I got scared and did as I was told," he said when met by Bernama on the island today.

He said one of the armed men, speaking in English but with a Suluk accent, then ordered 12 people inside the restaurant to come out and get into two boats which were about 20 metres away.

Chin said one of the tourist, an American, refused as his wife could not swim.

"When he told them that he would rather be shot than going with them, they left him and his wife alone.

"The couple scurried away and hid in the jungle behind the resort. They came out only this morning," he said.

He said the group also ransacked the place, took the keys of the resort and belongings of the tourists.

"In the commotion, I made my exit and hid in the jungle and came out when everything was all quiet," he said.

Chin, however, did not know about the other hostages.

Twenty-two hours later, those who survived the incident expressed shock and disbelief even as police personnel stood guard over the island, a popular world destination for scuba divers. --BERNAMA


April 24, 2000, Bernama, Pirates' Dens Could Be Located, Says Misuari, by Ali Mamat,
19:58PM

KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 (Bernama) -- The hideouts of the armed pirates who took 20 people hostage on Sipadan Island off Sabah Sunday night could be located if the gunmen are positively identified as southern Filipinos, a senior Philippine official said Monday.

Regional Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Nur Misuari said: "If they are from the islands in the southern provinces such as Tawi-Tawi, I am sure the authorities would be able to do something fast to ensure the safe return of the hostages," Misuari said in a telephone interview with Bernama from Manila today.

However, Misuari who is also the Chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said it was vital that the identity and the origin of the pirates be ascertained first before the authorities could make any move.

"As for myself, I admit that I have yet to be fully briefed on the Sipadan incident, either by the ARMM or the federal authorities, although I have heard of some "commotion" down south in the Sulu Sea," Misuari said, He also admitted that since the matter was being handled by Manila, the ARMM or the MNLF authorities could not be directly involved in the search and rescue efforts, although most of the southern island provinces are within his jurisdiction.

According to Misuari, since the Philippine authorities were already on top of the case, it was not proper for his regional administration to "come into the picture as yet", for it might overlap whatever planning that had already been undertaken.

However, he promised that he would use whatever means to hunt down the pirates if required to do so by President Joseph Estrada in his capacity as his as the governor of the southern regions and supreme commander of the MNLF combatants.

"I am following closely the development of the incident and continue to gather more information about it. I will immediately deploy my people to converge to the south if I am entrusted by the President to assist our Malaysian counterparts to solve this problem as fast as possible," Misuari said. -- BERNAMA



April 24, 2000, Asian Wall Street Journal, Island Tourists Are Abducted In Malaysia, by Robert Frank, Staff Reporter,

SINGAPORE - Several foreign tourists were among 22 hostages taken by armed assailants from the Malaysian island of Sipadan Sunday night.

Malaysia's foreign minister said all the hostages were safe and "authorities are taking the necessary steps to get them released."

The group includes two French tourists, three Germans, two South Africans, two Finns, one Lebanese, two Philippine tourists and several Malaysian resort-workers and wildlife experts, according to Malaysian officials. Philippine Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said the deputy chief of police in nearby Semporna was also taken hostage.

Malaysian police said two Americans were also among the hostages, but that they had escaped.

The hostages were captured from Sipadan Island, a world-famous diving site off the northeast coast of Borneo controlled by Malaysia. Police officials said five or six gunmen seized the hostages at a resort and led them to a fishing boat. Officials said they believe the boat was headed toward the Philippines.

The Philippine and Malaysian navies were overseeing the rescue effort, officials said. Malaysia's foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, declined to provide any information on the hostage takers or their nationality.

Police are examining a possible link between the capture and a similar hostage-taking in the same area recently by Philippine Muslim rebels.

The rebels, known as Abu Sayyaf, are fighting for an Islamic state in the southern Philippines. The Philippine military attacked one of the group's jungle hideaways over the weekend.

Sipadan has become increasingly popular as one of the world's top ten diving resorts, famous for its crystal blue waters, coral, and giant sea turtles. To preserve the ecology, only 80 people are allowed on the island at a time. The hotels on the island are mainly rustic huts built from local materials.

Sipadan is near Pulau Tiga, the island where U.S. television network CBS set a new game show called Survivor. The gameshow pits 16 contestants against each other as they try to survive on the jungle island using basic tools. CBS couldn't immediately be reached for comment. --WSJ


April 24, 2000, Reuters, Philippine rebels said to claim Malaysian kidnap,
23:46:00 ET

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines, April 25 (Reuters) - A man who identified himself as the spokesman for a Philippine rebel group said on Tuesday that the group was responsible for kidnapping 20 people from a Malaysian resort island at the weekend.

The DXRZ radio station in Zamboanga said it received a call from a man who identified himself as Abu Sabaya, a spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf rebel militia.

"We are responsible for the abduction of these foreign nationals. We still have more surprises for the government if they will continue to ignore our demands," the man said.

But in an interview with the local DXXX radio station about half an hour later, a caller also identified as Abu Sabaya was asked if Abu Sayyaf was involved in the kidnapping and responded: "We are keeping that strictly confidential."

At least 20 people, including 10 foreign tourists, were kidnapped from Sipadan Island in eastern Malaysia on Sunday by six heavily armed gunmen and taken away by boat. Police in both countries have said the kidnappers may be from the Abu Sayyaf, but have stressed there was no confirmation.

Philippine Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado told Reuters his office was verifying the authenticity of the claim of responsibility for the kidnapping.

The Abu Sayyaf is one of two Moslem militias fighting for an independent state in the southern part of the Philippines, a mainly Catholic nation. Islands in the southern Philippines are only about 45 minutes away from Sipadan by boat.

The other group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is engaged in peace talks with the government.

The Abu Sayyaf is holding at least another 27 hostages, mainly schoolchildren, on Basilan island in the southern Philippines and has demanded the release of three Moslem militants jailed in the United States. It also said it beheaded two hostages last week because of the lack of a favourable response. --Reuters




April 24, 2000, Agence France-Presse, American couple "tired" after escape from gunmen in Malaysia,

KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 (AFP) - 23:21 - An American couple who escaped from the clutches of six gunmen at a Malaysian resort island off Borneo flew back to Kuala Lumpur late Monday.

James and Mary Murphy landed at the Kuala Lumpur international airport at 9.30 pm (1330 GMT) to be greeted by a group of reporters and photographers.

Asked how he felt, the 51-year-old Murphy said he was "tired."

But he refused to elaborate on how they managed to evade the gunmen who raided a luxury diving resort on the island of Sipadan and made off with 20 hostages including 11 foreign tourists on Sunday.

"I'd rather not discuss that," he said.

He and his wife would stay in the Malaysian capital "for another few days."

It was their first visit to the popular diving island, he said.

The couple, clad casually in tee-shirts, were later escorted away by a tour agent.

Murphy, who works in Sydney, said he had yet to get in touch with his three children to tell them their parents were alright.

Malaysian police chief Norian Mai earlier said the American couple managed to escape in the dark and hide in bushes.

The couple, said to be in good health, were Monday taken to the Sabah town of Semporna before flying back to Kuala Lumpur.

Norian said the gunmen were armed with AK47 rifles and a bazooka, and fled the island in speed boats with their captives.

Their whereabouts are now unknown but Malaysian and Philippine authorities have launched a massive manhunt.

Officials in both countries said the abductors could be Filipino Muslim extremists or pirates, although none has claimed responsibility. --AFP



April 24, 2000, Agence France-Presse, List of hostages taken from Malaysian resort,

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines, April 24 (AFP) - The following is the list of hostages seized by unknown gunmen in the Malaysian resort of Sipadan, as provided by the southern Philippines military command:

Military spokesmen here told AFP that the list has been provided by Kuala Lumpur, which asked the Philippine government to help arrest the gang.

1. Sonia Wendling, French female tourist

2. Stephane Loisy, French male tourist

3. Marc Wallert, German male tourist

4. Werner Gunter Cort, German male tourist

5. Renate Juta, German female tourist

6. Carel Strydom, South African male tourist

7. Monique Strydom, South African female tourist

8. Marie Michel, Lebanese female tourist

9. Johan Franti Seppo, Finnish female tourist

10. Mirco Jahanen Rista, Finnish male tourist

11. Laurecia Dablo, Filipina female married to a Malaysian

12. Roland Ullah, Filipino male staff of the Borneo Divers Club

13. Ken Fong Yin Ken, Malaysian

14. Kua Yu Loong, Malaysian

15. Vincent Kwong, Malaysian

16. Francis, Malaysian Wild Life Department staff (other name unknown)

17. Zulkamain, Malaysian Wild Life Department staff (other name unknown)

18. Abdul Jawan bin Sulawat, Malaysian police officer

19. unidentified staff with Malaysian Wild Life Department

20. unidentified staff with Malaysian Wild Life Department
--AFP



April 24, 2000, The [Singapore] Business Times, Pirates seize hostages from Malaysian diving haven,

SEMPORNA, Malaysia, April 24 (Reuters) - Heavily armed pirates kidnapped 20 people, including 10 foreign tourists, on a tropical resort island off Borneo in eastern Malaysia and headed out to sea, authorities said on Monday.

Malaysian officials said they knew where the hostages, including six foreign women, were being held and believed they were safe. The Philippines said a Moslem rebel group in the southern Philippines might be responsible.

"We have been advised that they are still alive," Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said. "The priority is to get the safe release of everybody."

"We have found out the exact location," Defence Minister Najib Razak said. He did not disclose their whereabouts.

The six gunmen arrived in two boats on Sunday evening on tiny Sipadan island, a world-renowned diving spot about 30 km (20 miles) off the scenic coast of Malaysia's Sabah state, and took 22 hostages.

Two Americans who were captured, both aged 51, escaped into the woods on the island before the captors ordered the hostages into two boats, Malaysian police chief Norian Mai said.

The captors left one of their boats on the island and stole one belonging to the resort, he said.

There were no reports of demands by the pirates.

The hostages are nine Malaysians, three Germans, two French, two South Africans, two Finnish, one Lebanese and one Filipino working at the Sipadan Island Resort, Norian Mai said. The 10 foreign tourists include six women and four men.

MALAYSIA SENTS PATROL BOAT, AIRCRAFT

Philippine Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado said the captors appeared to be Filipino and had sped towards Philippine waters with the hostages. Philippine authorities ordered the navy and air force on alert.

Najib said Malaysia's Defence Ministry dispatched a patrol boat and a maritime surveillance aircraft to the spot where the pirates were holding the hostages.

Norian Mai said five of the captors were believed to be carrying AK-47 rifles and the sixth had a bazooka gun when they arrived at the Sipadan Island Resort during dinner on Sunday.

They stormed the police station on the island and the local wildlife and forestry office before heading for the resort.

"At the moment, we still don't know what their motive is, but we are considering ransom, revenge and international politics as the possible motive," the police chief said.

"Among these, we are most seriously considering international politics as the motive."

A marine photographer who was at the resort at the time of the kidnapping said the captors took his wallet, watch and mobile phone before ordering others to swim to boats.

The photographer, who asked not to be identified, said the captors claimed they were police and one was wearing a vest with "Police" written on it. Before leaving they scrawled names on the wall of a room, he said.

CAPTORS ARE POSSIBLY GUERRILLAS

Mercado said the kidnappers spoke Tausug, a dialect used in the Mindanao region of the southern Philippines.

But Norian Mai said they spoke in English. "From the description we obtained, we conclude they are foreign elements, fluent in English but not in the local accent."

Mercado told Reuters he had received information from Malaysia that the kidnappers might belong to the Abu Sayyaf group, one of two rebel militias fighting for an Islamic state in the southern Philippines.

"If they are Abu Sayyaf, that would obviously be an attempt to distract us...that could be a diversionary tactic so that pressure can be relieved from the efforts of the armed forces and police at Basilan," the Philippine foreign secretary said.

Twenty rebels were believed killed on Sunday in a massive military assault to try to free dozens of hostages held by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas in their mountain lair in the southern Philippines. Philippine warplanes pounded the stronghold with rockets again on Monday.

The rebels have demanded the release of three Islamic militants held in U.S. jails, including one believed to have been involved in the 1993 bomb attack on New York's World Trade Center.

They claimed to have beheaded two of their hostages last week because the government did not respond favourably to their demands.

Malaysia's police chief, asked if the captors could be part of the Abu Sayyaf group, told reporters: "Possible."

DISPUTED ISLAND

Norian Mai said the Malaysian hostages included four staff from the local wildlife and forestry department, three staff of the Sipadan Island Resort, one worker from the diving company Borneo Divers and one local policeman.

"We are negotiating with the government of the Philippines and the Indonesians," the police chief said. "On our side, we have air surveillance as well as boats that have already been dispatched."

Sabah state is on the northeastern tip of the island of Borneo, which includes part of Indonesia as well as Brunei.

The glimmering coral island of Sipadan is near the borders of the Philippines and Indonesia, and a 45-minute boat journey from islands in the southern Philippines.

Indonesia has staked a claim to Sipadan, famed for its scuba diving and surrounded by white sand beaches and crystal clear waters of the Sulawesi Sea near the Alice Channel dividing Malaysia and the Philippines.



April 24, 2000, Bernama, Security forces in hot pursuit of pirates,

KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 (Bernama) -- Malaysian security forces are in hot pursuit of a band of pirates who have taken 20 people hostage, including foreign tourists, on Sipadan island off the Sabah coast last night.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said upon being informed of the incident at 8.30 am Monday, he ordered for a swift response by the Malaysian security forces.

"They'll have to act fast," he told reporters who approached him on the incident after closing the Malaysian Trust Fund week at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) here.

Sipadan island is a popular resort especially among scuba-divers. As of 8.30 am today, Abdullah said he was not informed yet of the pirates' demands in return for the release of the hostages.

According to information conveyed to him, Abdullah said six of the pirates are Filipinos.

Abdullah said the authorities were determined to secure the release of the foreign tourists and local residents held hostage.

"Freeing them is uppermost. I think the Philippine government can help in this matter," he said.

Abdullah had ordered a special team comprising the police, the defence and foreign ministries, be set up to manage the crisis.

The Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Norian Mai had been instructed to convene an urgent meeting with these agencies to mount an integrated operation to free the hostages, he said.

Abdullah said he had proposed that the police work together with the Defence Ministry in handling the crisis.

Abdullah said he had issued orders that the Philippine government be kept informed of the situation with the view to getting Manila's assistance.

"I was informed that the Sabah police chief had contacted the police authorities in southern Philippines," he said.

While describing the incident as unexpected, Abdullah said it should also prompt the police to review the security of territorial waters off Sabah.

News of the attack reached Tawau on Sabah's east coast at about 8pm last night, about an hour after the pirates struck on Sipadan.

According to The Star newspaper online edition, the pirates were armed with rocket launchers and M16 rifles and besides tourists, the hostages included hotel staff and wildlife rangers.



April 24, 2000, Bernama, Armed Pirates Take Hostages on Sipadan Island,

TAWAU, April 24 (Bernama) -- Armed pirates took about 20 people, including foreign tourists, hostage on Sipadan island off the Sabah coast last night, according to police here Monday.

Confirming this in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said a special team had been set by the police to rescue the hostages who were taken in boats by the pirates.

He said Malaysian police were in contact with their counterparts in Southern Philippines in efforts to track down the pirates.

Sipadan island is a popular resort especially among scuba-divers. News of the attack reached Tawau on Sabah's east coast at about 8pm last night, about an hour after the pirates struck on the island.

According to police, most of the hostages were foreign tourists while the rest were local workers on the island.

A Japanese Consulate official in Kota Kinabalu said he was told by police that the tourists included Americans,French,Germans and South Africans and that no Japanese tourists were involved.

Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Jamil Johari, when contacted in Kuala Lumpur, said Inspector-General Tan Sri Norian Mai would hold a press conference at 4 pm today on the hostage incident.

U.S. embassy press officer James Warren said in Kuala Lumpur the embassy knew about the incident from sources this morning.

"We are still verifying the facts and are working closely with the police in Sabah," he added.

Reuters meanwhile, quoted a diplomat as saying that two American tourists among the hostages escaped by jumping overboard and might be safe.

According to The Star newspaper online edition, the pirates were armed with rocket launchers and M16 rifles and besides tourists, the hostages included hotel staff and wildlife rangers.

The international waters bordering Sabah, Southern Philippines and Eastern Indonesia are pirate-infested with several incidents reported in the last few years.



April 24, 2000, Bernama, All Hostages Safe, Says Syed Hamid,
16:43PM

KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 (Bernama) -- All the 20 people taken hostage by armed pirates on Sipadan island off the Sabah coast last night are safe, said Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar Thursday.

He said this was the information given to Wisma Putra but did not elaborate.

Speaking at a news conference at his ministry here today, Syed Hamid said the hostages include two French nationals, three Germans, two South Africans, two Finns and one Lebanese, all tourists.

The others are eight Malaysians, who according to Syed Hamid, "happened to be there" and two Filipino workers.

He said Wisma Putra had informed two foreign missions here whose nationals are involved.

The other missions could not be contacted but they would be informed later, Syed Hamid said.

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said a special team had been set by the police to rescue the hostages who were taken in boats by the pirates.

Syed Hamid said the names of the hostages would be released by the Malaysian police.

"They are getting help from neighbouring countries to trace the hostages," he said.

A Reuters report said today the gunmen were headed for Philippine waters.

Asked if the government has any information on the armed group, Syed Hamid said:

"Let us complete on the intention of trying to get the safe release (of the hostages).

"I think the authorities are taking the necessary steps to get them released from their captors."

The minister could not say if the pirates have made any demands. Syed Hamid said the hostage incident was an "isolated" case and it was safe for people to visit Sipadan island.

Sipadan island is a popular resort especially among scuba-divers.

News of the attack reached Tawau on Sabah's east coast at about 8pm last night, about an hour after the pirates struck on the island.

The international waters bordering Sabah, Southern Philippines and Eastern Indonesia are pirate-infested with several incidents reported in the last few years.

Meanwhile, the Philippines embassy here said it was preparing details of the hostage incident upon being informed of it by Malaysian authorities.

The information would be rushed to the Department of the Foreign Affairs in Manila for further action, in accordance with normal diplomatic procedure, said the embassy, adding that it also received queries from the Philippine media about the incident.



April 24, 2000, The Star [Malaysia] Foreigners among 20 held hostage; two escape, 4:53 p.m.,

KOTA KINABALU: Some 20 people, 10 of them foreign tourists, were taken hostage by heavily armed gunmen who grabbed them on the popular diving resort of Pulau Sipadan off the east coast of Sabah, officials said Monday.

However, two of the hostages managed to escape.

The gunmen, reported to be Filipinos, took the hostages on to boats which are now believed to be at sea.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar told a press conference that of the 10 tourists taken hostage, three were from Germany, two each from France, Finland and South Africa and one from Lebanon.

The others were eight Malaysians and two Filipinos working on the island.

Sabah police chief Datuk Mamat Talib Monday visited Sipadan where the hostages were abducted at about 8pm Sunday.

The identity of the gunmen, who spoke English with a foreign accent, were not known.

Initial reports said Monday that an unknown number of masked gunmen armed with rocket launchers and M-16 assault rifles landed from boats on the beach and grabbed the hostages.

In Kuala Lumpur, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the government was working hard to ensure that all the hostages were released unharmed.

He added that swift action must be taken to ensure that the hostages were released.

"We do not know the demands of the hostage-takers yet.

"We are also cooperating with the Phillipine government since it was reported that six of the terrorists were alleged to be from that country," Abdullah told press conference after attending the closing ceremony of the Amanah Saham Malaysia campaign here.

Meanwhile, Sabah Tourism Development, Environment, Science and Technology Minister Datuk Chong Kah Kiat said the state's reputation as a safe destination for tourists should not be affected in any way by the hostage situation.

Describing the Sunday night hostage drama as an unfortunate incident, he said this was the first time such an incident had occurred on Sipadan. --The Star


[An earlier version of this story follows:]


Monday, April 24, 2000, The Star [Malaysia] Foreigners among 20 held hostage; two escape,

KOTA KINABALU: Some 20 people, including foreign tourists, are being held hostage by a group of heavily armed gunmen who grabbed them on the popular diving resort of Pulau Sipadan off the east coast of Sabah. Two of the hostages managed to escape.

The gunmen, reported to be Filipinos, took the hostages on to boats which are now believed to be at sea.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar told a press conference that of the 10 tourists among the hostages three were from Germany, two each from France, Finland and South Africa and one from Lebanon.

The other hostages were eight Malaysians and two Filipinos working on the island.

Sabah police chief Datuk Mamat Talib was the island of Sipadan where the hostages were abducted at about 8pm on Sunday.

The identity of the gunmen, who spoke English with a foreign accent, were not known.

Initial reports said Monday that an unknown number of masked gunmen armed with rocket launchers and M-16 assault rifles landed from boats on the beach and grabbed the hostages.

Sabah Tourism Development, Environment, Science and Technology Minister Datuk Chong Kah Kiat said the state's reputation as a safe destination for tourists should not be affected in anyway by the hostage situation.

Describing the Sunday night hostage drama as an unfortunate incident, he said this was the first time such an incident had occurred in Sipadan.

In Kuala Lumpur, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the government was working hard to ensure that all the hostages were released unharmed.

He added that swift action must be taken to ensure that the hostages were released.

"We do not know the demands of the hostage-takers yet.

"We are also cooperating with the Phillipine government since it was reported that six of the terrorists were alleged to be from that country," Abdullah told press conference after attending the closing ceremony of the Amanah Saham Malaysia campaign here.



April 24, 2000, Reuters, Gunmen abduct hostages from Malaysian diving haven,

SEMPORNA, Malaysia, April 24 (Reuters) - Gunmen seized at least 20 people, including 10 foreign tourists, on a tropical resort island off Borneo in eastern Malaysia and headed for Philippine waters, authorities said on Monday.

They said the gunmen arrived on Sunday night by boat on Sipadan island, a world-renowned diving spot about 30 km (20 miles) off the coast of Malaysia's Sabah state, and took their hostages away in boats.

There were no reports of demands by the pirates.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said there were 20 hostages and they were alive.

"We have been advised that they are still alive," he told reporters in Malaysia's capital. "The priority is to get the safe release of everybody."


Syed Hamid said the hostages were eight Malaysians, three Germans, two French, two South Africans, two Finnish, two Filipinos working on the island and one Lebanese.

"We are watching the situation very closely and we are in contact with our neighbours to know their whereabouts," he said. "I think this is an isolated incident and we regret that it has happened."

Philippine authorities ordered the navy and air force on alert. Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado said there were five or six Philippine kidnappers who spoke Tausug, a dialect used in the Mindanao region of southern Philippines.

Mercado said they sped off with 21 hostages, including the deputy police chief of Malaysia's Sabah state on Borneo. It was not clear whether the police officer was among the 20 hostages cited by Malaysia's foreign
minister.

The hostages included staff from an exclusive resort on the Sipadan, three wildlife rangers and one off-duty policeman, Sabah state authorities said.

The gunmen took the hostages from the island in at least one boat, police in the capital said.

TWO TOURISTS ESCAPE OVERBOARD

Police and diplomats initially said gunmen had seized 22 people.

Two U.S. tourists escaped by jumping overboard and may be safe, one diplomat said, quoting police.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he had ordered a special team, drawn from police as well as the defence and foreign ministers, to manage Malaysia's response.

"They'll have to act fast," the official Bernama news agency quoted Abdullah as saying. "Freeing them is uppermost. I think the Philippine government can help in this matter."

Mercado said the kidnappers and their hostages had headed toward Philippine waters. "But if they have left last night, it is possible that they are already within Philippine waters or any of the islands nearby," he told CNN television.

Mercado said it was not clear whether the kidnappers were part of the fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf rebel group holding dozens of hostages in the southern Philippines.

"If at all it has anything to do with the Abu Sayyaf, then it could be also possible for us to think of possible diversionary tactics," he said.

Twenty rebels were believed killed on Sunday in a massive military assault to try to free dozens of hostages held by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas in their mountain lair in the southern Philippines.

Mercado said: "The presence of foreigners could also be an indication that, if they are indeed Abu Sayyaf, this is an attempt to put some international flavour to this particular conflict, as they have been trying to do from the beginning."

DISPUTED ISLAND

Sabah state is on the northeastern tip of the island of Borneo, which includes part of Indonesia as well as the sultanate of Brunei.

The Star newspaper said in its online edition (http://thestar.com.my) that masked gunmen armed with rocket launchers and M16 rifles grabbed the hostages, who included hotel staff, tourists and wildlife rangers, at about 10 p.m. (1400 GMT) on Sunday.

The tiny coral island of Sipadan is near the borders of the Philippines and Indonesia, and a 45-minute boat journey from islands in the southern Philippines.

Indonesia has staked a claim to Sipadan, famed for its scuba diving and surrounded by white sand beaches and crystal clear waters of the Sulawesi Sea near the Alice Channel dividing Malaysia and the Philippines.

Police headquarters in Sabah declined to comment on the incident "with a view to safeguarding the well-being of all parties concerned".

Bernama said the pirates struck at about 7 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Sunday.

Indonesian and Malaysian navy ships regularly patrol within sight of the island because of its strategic position in waters infested with pirates.

The sea around it has an abundant reserve of tropical fish and larger barracudas and sharks, and is a favourite nesting ground for turtles. --Reuters



April 24, 2000, Reuters, Malaysia says knows where hostages are held,

KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 (Reuters) - The Malaysian government said on Monday it has established where armed kidnappers are keeping 20 hostages, including 10 foreign tourists, who were seized from a tropical island resort off Borneo Island.

"We have found out the exact location (of the group)," the official Bernama news agency quoted Defence Minister Najib Razak as saying.

Heavily armed gunmen kidnapped 22 people, including 12 foreign tourists, on Sunday on Sipadan Island, a world-renowned diving spot about 30 km (20 miles) off the coast of Malaysia's Sabah state.

Two Americans who were captured, both aged 51, escaped into the woods on the island before the captors ordered the remaining 20 hostages into boats, Malaysian police chief Norian Mai said earlier on Monday.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said earlier on Monday that the 20 remaining hostages were alive. --Reuters



April 24, 2000, Reuters, Philippine rebels said using hostages as "shields",

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines, April 24 (Reuters) - Islamic rebels holding dozens of hostages in the southern Philippines are using them as "human shields" in an attempt to foil a military assault on their mountain hideout,
officials said on Monday.

Despite a rebel threat to behead more hostages, rocket-firing helicopter gunships took off from an airbase in this southern seaport city to launch fresh air strikes at the rebel lair on nearby Basilan island.

Officials said 20 guerrillas of the fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf force were believed to have been killed since the military launched operations on Saturday to try to free the estimated 27 hostages, most them school
children, held since March 20.

The military put its losses at three dead and four wounded in the skirmishes on the slopes of a 900-foot (278-metre) mountain on Basilan, 900 km (560 miles) south of Manila.

"The Abu Sayyaf are in bunkers while the hostages are in huts above them. They are using the hostages as human shields," Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado told Reuters in Manila.

The Abu Sayyaf, which the military estimates to have 1,000 fighters, is one of two groups fighting for an Islamic state in this largely Catholic country.

The bigger group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is holding peace negotiations with Manila.

The reported executions by the Abu Sayyaf occurred after Manila rejected the rebels' demands, including the release of three Islamic militants held in the United States.

Among them is Youssef Ramsy, believed to refer to Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who was convicted of masterminding the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

HELICOPTERS ATTACK BUNKERS

Military reports said the guerrillas were keeping their captives inside their main camp atop the mountain and fighting the past three days had been concentrated on the lower slopes.

Southern military commander General Diomedio Villanueva said the government's MG520 attack helicopters had been ordered to strike at bunkers occupied by Abu Sayyaf defenders on the lower slopes and not on the rebels' main camp -- four km away -- where the hostages were kept.

The hostages include 22 children and a Roman Catholic priest.

"This is not an urban type warfare where you just keep on advancing," Villanueva told Reuters. "There are many variables here, and our (main) concern is the safety of the hostages."

The results of Monday's air strikes were not immediately known but fighting was continuing on the ground.

Villanueva said the army attempt to scale the mountain and reach the hostages were being slowed by the rugged terrain and landmines planted by the guerrillas on mountain paths.

The military said it ordered the rescue operation to prevent the killing of more hostages after the Abu Sayyaf said on Wednesday that it had beheaded two of their 29 captives -- both male teachers -- and threatened to
decapitate more.

Military officials said they were aware of the risks to hostages of a rescue attempt but that they could not sit idly by in the face of the Abu Sayyaf threat of more beheadings.

LIKE PUTTING PETROL INTO FIRE

In retaliation for the reported beheading of the hostages, a pro-government vigilante group on Saturday seized a suspected Abu Sayyaf member near the provincial capital and also decapitated him. The victim was a brother of one of the abductors.

Mercado said the vigilantes' action could make it more difficult for the government to resolve the hostage issue.

"It would only complicate the matter so we're appealing to them (the vigilantes) not to interfere and to let the military solve the problem," Mercado said. "(This) is like throwing gasoline to the fire."

The hostages were among more than 70 people abducted from two high schools last month. The rest have been released unharmed.

Renewed clashes broke out between the military and the MILF last month in which dozens of combatants were killed but the fighting has tapered off. --Reuters




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