Authorities in the southern Philippines were searching for a British citizen and his Filipino wife after a group of gunmen abducted them from a beach town in Zamboanga del Sur province on Friday evening, the military said.
The victims were identified as businessman Allan Arthur Hyrons, and his wife, Welma Paglinawan-Hyrons, officials said. The couple was seized around 6 p.m. Friday (local time) by six unidentified gunmen from a seaside resort in the town of Tukuran, said Capt. Clint Antipala, spokesman for the Army’s 1st Infantry Division.
Antipala said it was not immediately known where the gunmen took the couple. He said the Army was coordinating with local police to investigate the kidnapping.
“We have alerted all the forces to look for these victims,” Antipala said.
An initial investigation revealed that four of the suspects apparently had waited for the couple, who were snatched as soon as they reached the beach resort.
“When the victims arrived at the resort, they were immediately abducted by the suspects and [put on] two motorized boats, which escaped separately,” according to an incident report by the army.
One of the boats headed in the open sea towards Pagadian City while the other one moved in the direction of Lanao del Norte province, officials said.
Muslim militants are known to operate in parts of the Philippine south, where foreigners have been the main victims of abductions in the region.
In May, Dutch national Ewold Horn was killed in a rescue attempt by the military, when soldiers engaged his Abu Sayyaf captors in a gunfight. He had been in captivity in the region since 2012. A Swiss national, Lorenzo Vinciguerra, who was abducted with Horn escaped after two years in captivity.
The Abu Sayyaf Group is the smallest of several armed groups that operate in the restive south, but it is considered the most brutal one. Three years ago, Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded two Canadian hostages and a German captive after their governments refused to pay ransoms for their release.
One of its leaders, Isnilon Hapilon, was later named the head of the Islamic State branch in the Philippines. He was killed in October 2017 along with his aides, at the end of a five-month battle with government forces after leading militants in a siege of the southern city of Marawi.
Haplion was replaced by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, also a senior Abu Sayyaf commander, whose group was blamed for suicide bombings on southern Jolo island since January 2019.
Jeoffrey Maitem, Richel V. Umel and Froilan Gallardo contributed to this report.