ZAMBOANGA, Philippines: Islamic extremists kidnapped two Filipina Muslim film-makers in the southern Philippines as they were working on a movie about the area’s impoverished residents, authorities and a friend of the victims said yesterday.
Members of the Abu Sayyaf group, which frequently kidnaps locals and foreigners in the south to extort ransoms, abducted the sisters as they were visiting strife-torn Jolo island on Saturday, said military officials.
“There were armed men who flagged their vehicle down and abducted them and took them to their hideout,” said Jolo Marine commander Colonel Jose Cenabre.
He said the women’s companions identified the leader of the kidnappers as Ninok Sapari, head of an Abu Sayyaf faction known for abducting local residents for ransom.
So far, there are no reports on the demands of the kidnappers, he added.
Linda Bansil, 35 and her sister, Nadjoua, 39, had been working on a film about Muslim coffee-growers in Jolo when they were taken, said Ledrolen Manriquez, chief of the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network, to which the women belong.
“They went there thinking they were safe. They are from the area. Why are they kidnapping their Muslim sisters?” she said.
The network had trained the women in ‘conflict-sensitive reporting’ and they had made short films on the plight of Muslims and the effects of the armed conflict in the south, Manriquez said.
The sisters are daughters of a prominent, deceased Muslim preacher and have resided since the 1980s in the south, which the Philippines’ Islamic minority consider their ancestral home, she added.
The Abu Sayyaf are an extremist group founded with seed money from Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. The US government has officially designated it a terrorist organisation.
It has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history as well as many kidnappings of foreigners and Filipinos, often demanding hefty ransoms for their hostages.
Other Abu Sayyaf factions are believed to be holding hostages, including two European bird watchers.
In March, Abu Sayyaf militants released Australian Warren Rodwell after holding him for 15 months. An undisclosed ransom was paid to win his freedom.
US troops have been based in the southern Philippines for more than a decade to help train local troops in hunting down members of the group. — AFP