Philippine government security forces were looking for a Filipino doctor and gunmen believed to be Abu Sayyaf militants who abducted him from his home in southern Sulu province, a regional military spokesman said Wednesday.
At least four men in police and military uniforms snatched the victim, Dr. Daniel Moreno, from his residence near a police station and the municipal hall in Jolo, the provincial capital, on Tuesday evening, Maj. Arvin John Encinas said. The island province in the far south is known as a hotbed for Abu Sayyaf Group militants linked with Islamic State (IS) extremists.
The men who took Moreno then sped off toward Indanan, a remote town largely under the control of Abu Sayyaf, Encinas said.
“The Abu Sayyaf Group is likely responsible for the abduction,” Encinas said, emphasizing that the kidnapping bore the group’s hallmark.
The Metro Jolo Interagency Task Group, composed of military and police units, launched pursuit operations to recover the victim, he said. But no group had yet claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, nor demanded ransom.
It is possible that Abu Sayyaf kidnapped the doctor so he could provide medical assistance to comrades who were injured when the outlawed group suffered heavy casualties during firefights with the military in the region last month, Encinas said.
At least five suspected Abu Sayyaf members were killed and others wounded in two clashes with government forces in neighboring Tawi-Tawi province on Jan. 18-19. The incidents occurred after the military received an alert that gunmen were spotted in the area transporting five Indonesian fishermen, who had been abducted at sea in waters in Sabah, a nearby state in Malaysian Borneo.
The military had previously reminded medical practitioners and health workers to be cautious for their security, because Abu Sayyaf was known for kidnapping doctors in order to treat the group’s wounded fighters.
The Abu Sayyaf Group is the smallest of several armed groups operating in the southern Philippines, but it is considered the most brutal one. In 2016, Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded two Canadian hostages and a German captive after their governments refused to pay ransoms for their release.
In May 2017, Abu Sayyaf figures allied with IS and foreign militants led a takeover of the southern Marawi city. They were defeated five months later after a battle with Philippine forces that killed an estimated 1,200 militants, soldiers and civilians and left the city in ruins.
In January 2019, an Abu Sayyaf unit helped two Indonesian suicide bombers kill 23 people during an attack on a church in Jolo.