Armed men seized on Friday another foreign national in a remote village in the island province of Sulu, a stronghold of the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), according to the military.
Based on information released by the armed forces’ Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) public affairs officer, Lt. Steffani Cacho-Cimini, the latest victim was a Japanese national identified as Amer Katayama Mamaito.
Cimini said at least 10 armed men seized Mamaito at about 1:00 p.m. at Sitio Bas, Barangay Bangkilay in Pangutaran, Sulu.
The victim, who is about 70-years-old and is reportedly engaged in treasure hunting, is said to be residing in Sulu for almost five years now.
No other information was available as authorities continue to exert effort to locate the victim.
Sulu is a stronghold of the ASG, a local terrorist group engaged in extortion and kidnapping activities to raise funds for their operations. The group first gained notoriety in May 2000 when it occupied a resort in Sipadan island, Malaysia and took 21 hostages, mostly foreign nationals. The hostages were then taken to Jolo, Sulu.
AFP records show that as of the first quarter of the 2010, the ASG has an estimated strength of 405 from 1,270 in 2000.
A report published in West Point’s Combatting Terrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel written by Prof. Rommel Banlaoi, executive director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR), cited the island province of Sulu as having the largest members of the remaining ASG members, 79 percent of whom are 30-years-old and younger.
Banlaoi’s report stated 200 of the ASG members are in Sulu, while 130 are in Basilan. The others are said to be Zamboanga City, Tawi-Tawi, and Marawi City.
Banlaoi also noted that in Sulu alone, 46% or 115 of its total 251 villages are affected by the ASG.
Authorities have yet to say if the latest kidnapping in Sulu was the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf.