Unidentified armed men have kidnapped the 29-year old woman from Shanghai along with a hotel employee in a raid at a holiday resort in eastern Malaysia on Wednesday night, in yet another attack on tourists in the region plagued by frequent kidnap for ransom raids.
Guests were left cowering behind upturned tables after the gunmen entered the Singamata Reef Resort in Malaysia’s easternmost state of Sabah.
It is the latest in a long line of kidnappings targeting foreigners for large ransom demands.
The incident could complicate already strained relations between China and Malaysia over Kuala Lumpur’s hunt for a jetliner that disappeared on March 8 with 153 Chinese citizens on board.
The hotel manager, who asked to be identified only as Vicky, said five to six armed men burst into the hotel, a row of bungalows built on a reef, around 10.30pm on Wednesday. They left by boat within minutes. No shots were fired, one eyewitness said.
They took Gao Huayun, a 29-year-old female tourist from Shanghai, and a female hotel employee from the Philippines. Malaysian media have identified the hotel employee as 40 year-old Marcy Dayawan. Gao was travelling with a friend, who left the resort on Thursday morning, the hotel manager said.
Photo from the scene shared by the West China Metropolis Daily on weibo.
Gao’s parents contacted Shanghai People’s Broadcast Radio asking for help, the radio station said on its weibo microblog. A day before the raid the daughter had received an admission letter for an MBA degree programme with a British university, the parents reportedly told the broadcaster.
Some 50 members of the police and military arrived within minutes and gathered all the remaining guests and staff in the resort’s main hall.
The abduction occurred almost one year after the Malaysian government established the Eastern Sabah Security Command to combat such armed incursions along the eastern coast of Borneo.
The command tried to cut off escape routes and alerted authorities in the Philippines, the Malaysian newspaper The Star reported on Thursday. Security forces of neither country have sighted the armed group, it said.
By Thursday morning, all 61 guests – 59 of them from mainland China – had decided to leave the resort. Ten new holidaymakers, who arrived on Thursday, were staying, she said.
A local diving instructor and a Beijing-based hotel employee confirmed the kidnapping, adding that it was the first time the resort had been targeted.
Liu Dongyuan, deputy consul general at the Chinese consulate in Kuching, Malaysia, said the Chinese woman had been on holiday with several friends.
“Our consul general is on the way to the scene,” she said over telephone. “Malaysian police also launched rescue efforts.”
Liu Quan, the Chinese consul general in Kuching, had spoken directly with the police chief of Sabah and urged police to carry out a speedy rescue, said Liu Dongyuan.
Photos shared online by eyewitnesses show a chaos and confusion as tourists crouched on the floor of a dining room behind overturned tables.
Other photos showed policemen in uniforms with rifles and bulletproof vests securing the resort after the raid. Local police could not be reached for immediate comment.
It is latest in a series of raids on hotels in Sabah. Many have been attributed to insurgent groups from the Sulu archipelago in the Philippines.
Singamata Reef Resort
The attackers were believed to be from the Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino militant Muslim group that has been implicated in seaborne kidnappings for ransom in the region before, said a Philippine intelligence official who didn’t give his name because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Last November, suspected Abu Sayyaf militants shot and killed a Taiwanese tourist and kidnapped his wife from a resort in the Semporna area. The woman was released a month later in the southern Philippines.
Authorities didn’t say whether a ransom was paid. Such deals are normally not immediately disclosed to the media, if at all.
The Abu Sayyaf had tenuous historical links to international militant networks, including al-Qaeda, but a US-assisted Philippine military crackdown on the group’s heartland in Sulu province in the southern Philippines has weakened it considerably in recent years.
The group has around 300 fighters and is more focused on ransom kidnappings than the global jihadi cause.
The Chinese consulate in Kuching issued a warning on its website on Thursday, urging Chinese tourists to take precautions when traveling in the area.
China is the largest country of origin for tourists in Sabah, according to local government figures. More than 360,000 Chinese citizens visited the Malaysian state in 2013, up 86.7 per cent from the previous year.
An armed Malaysian policeman guards the resort after the kidnapping. Photo: Weibo
Travellers with questions or requests for help were encouraged to contact the Chinese consulate at 0060-12-8861953. -www.scmp.com
Think it is time our lethargic Goverment needs to examine ways to clamp down on this Abu Sayaf threat once and for all, or make them pay a price so high that whatever remains of them will think twice about coming to Malaysia to kidnap for ransom,
Maybe a joint military operation between Phillipines and Malaysia ,to flush out these Abu Sayyaf rats. just patrolling or increasing border security doesn’t seem to be working.
Malaysia and Phillipines need to stand together on this to send a very firm or even lethal deterrent message that this cannot be tolerated, otherwise they will just lay low till this blows over and strike again..
As it is, the Sabah resorts seem to be the Abu Sayaf bank account when their funds are low,just scoot on over undetected, kidnap a tourist or more and gain few million..Simple.? This has got to stop.! Or if a future attempt goes awry , and tourists ends up getting killed or mortally wounded in some crossfire or worst, gets kidnapped and tortured because they cannot afford ransom demands, , then it will be too late to remedy an already maligned reputation , not only of Sabah but Malaysia as a whole.
.Negative publicity such as these carries a very damaging repercussions, that last for years , and who suffers? The entire tourism industry’s reputation of Malaysia, because it happened in Malaysian soil that ought to be policed by Malaysian authorities.!
Or China might react using this as an excuse, relations between China Malaysia and Phillipines are already tenuous , China is itching for some excuse to pick some quarrel,already there exist few territorial squabbles over some islands, if they go ballistic and send in their gunships or marines because their nationals are being threatened or targeted . and a diplomatic row erupts??
The US has already done something similar, American lives or interests are being threatened or jeopardized , so it justifies sending in their marines or navy seals to do black ops in foreign lands,mostly in the middle east.
Sabah is also scuba diving nirvana not only for Chinese tourist but also scuba divers from around the world. Among these include Malaysians from all over the country, especially peninsular and Singaporeans , who probably contribute millions to Sabah tourism .
Our goverment really need to give even their own citizens and international tourists , peace of mind, assurances that their safety can be safeguarded, and not be at risk of being kidnapped while they are on a diving holiday. Afterall , it has happened before ,few occurences already and likely will happen again..regardless of the frequency , just one incident and the resulting publicity can affect tourism for years to come.
There need to be measures taken to reassure the public that this risk of being kidnapped while on holiday can be eliminated . The incident does not augur very well at all to the Sabah state tourism industry.
So ,flush them out or flush them Abu Sayaf rats down the toilet , Malaysia and Phillipines, it is to the best interests of both our nations. Just rid us decent peace loving folks who occasionally go on scuba diving holidays, of this nuisance that hangs over our thought, we don’t care how you do it, we don’t want to know , but do tell us after mission is accomplished ,that it has been done,and that Abu Sayaf will kidnap no more nor bother us no more.!
You will be lauded , rest assured..