By Roy Ramos
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) - Philippines authorities are reported to be checking reports that four Malaysians have been kidnapped by suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen off the coast of Malaysia.
Sr. Supt. Joselito Salido, police director of Tawi-Tawi -- the country's southernmost province bordering Malaysia's Sabah province -- was quoted by ABS CBN News as saying unidentified armed men brought the four to the shores of Sitankai Island, Tawi-Tawi before transferring them to nearby Jolo island in Sulu province.
The incident happened a week after the group freed four Malaysian sailors, more than two months after they were abducted off Sabah.
The group has beheaded two kidnapped Canadian nationals over the past two months -- one of them Monday -- on failure of the payment of ransoms.
Maj. Filemon Tan told local reporters they are still gathering information to confirm the abduction, which comes a day after outgoing President Benigno III flew to Jolo where he met military and police commanders to check on the status of the remaining hostages in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf and to get first hand information on the progress of combat and rescue operations by government forces.
More than a dozen Filipino and foreign hostages are being held by the Daesh-linked group, including a Dutch bird watcher who was kidnapped more than three years ago.
Both the United States and the Philippines have labeled the group a terrorist organization.
From Jolo, Aquino proceeded to Zamboanga City for another conference with top-level military officials at the Western Mindanao Command Headquarters in Camp Navarro,
A military source from the camp, who spoke to Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to talk to media, said the president and the military officers "lengthily discussed prospective solutions to eliminate the risk factors affecting the conduct of operations in Sulu."
The source said high-ranking military and police officers recommended to Aquino steps to be taken by the security forces to fight the Abu Sayyaf, including factors such as the support the militant group received from villagers which creates difficulties for ground troops.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf group -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles-- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.