On Tuesday, Indonesia announced that ten of its citizens, sailors working aboard a coal barge, had been kidnapped, with a ransom demand made by the Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. Wednesday brought reports that elite Indonesian counter-terrorist units are standing by to assist in a possible rescue operation.
“Indonesian National Police spokesman Anton Charliyan yesterday said squads from the elite Detachment 88 (Densus 88) counter-terrorism unit and Brimob, the police mobile brigade, ‘are ready to assist when the time comes,'” writes The Star of Malaysia. Interpol is also said to be coordinating on the case.
The Inspector-General’s office of Indonesia confirmed that a ransom of more than $1 million U.S. has been demanded by a cell of the Islamist terror group Abu Sayyaf, headed by a militant named Alhabsi Misaya, who has been involved in a number of kidnappings and murders. Abu Sayyaf, founded as an offshoot of al-Qaeda but now loyal to the Islamic State, has a long history of kidnapping for ransom.
The Philippine military said the hostages may have been taken to Misaya’s stronghold in the province of Sulu, based on intelligence The Star says has not yet been verified. Another intelligence report said the hostages are still alive and are being treated well by their captors.
UPI reports the ransom demand was made in a telephone call to the owners of the Brahma 12 tugboat, which was towing the Anand 12 barge with some 7,000 tons of coal when it was attacked by pirates, probably sometime on Saturday. The tugboat was later found adrift at sea, and its crew were released by the Islamist pirates, while the coal barge and its crew were seized.
“If the Abu Sayyaf is confirmed responsible, the number of hostages would be among the largest it has seized since 2001,” writes the Associated Press.
The group is believed to be currently holding several other hostages, including “two Canadians, a Norwegian, and a Filipino woman,” possibly in the same stronghold where the coal barge and its crew were taken. In a Facebook video, Abu Sayyaf threatened to kill its hostages on April 8 if the Philippines do not pay a hefty ransom, but the Philippines government is reportedly sticking with its policy against paying ransoms.