By John Isaac
FIVE Sandakan-based Indonesian fishermen were released by Abu Sayyaf captors only to be held again by another group that assisted their release.
Regional intelligence sources said intermediaries for families of the Indonesian hostages had settled the demands of a key Abu Sayyaf kidnap group, led by sub-commander Apo Mike, who then released them to Abu Sayyaf-linked middlemen.
However, the source said that the middlemen were now holding the hostages, demanding extra payment.
The source said negotiations were now being carried out with a Jolo-based middlemen, led by a woman, once closely associated with a powerful Moro leader.
As of now, the source said the middlemen were demanding additional costs incurred for the release.
The five Indonesians were working for a Sandakan-based fishing company.
They are the trawler’s skipper Arsyad Dahlan, 41, La Baa, 32, Riswanto Hayano, 27, Edi Lawalopo, 53, and Syarizal Kastamiran, 29.
All five were kidnapped at the sea border of Tambisan area in Lahad Datu on Jan 17 this year.
According to reports in The Star, about a month ago, the gunmen had released a video, threatening to behead the five if no ransom payments were made.
They were reportedly asking for RM3 to RM4 million during calls to family members.
It was not known if any ransom was paid to the Apo Mike gang before the five were handed over.
The source also said in a separate deal, another key Abu Sayyaf commander Idang Susukan, who has been responsible for a spate of cross-border kidnapping in Sabah, has “surrendered” to Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari.
Currently, Idang is said to be in Misuari’s base in Jolo and hoping for Misuari to cut a deal for him with Manila.
“So far, there is no indication whether Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration is prepared to give a deal to Idang, ” the source said.
Idang was the key kidnapper holding Malaysian Bernard Then, who was beheaded on Nov 17,2015.
He is widely believed to have been injured and under the refuge of the MNLF.
Duterte had ordered for the wiping out of the Abu Sayyaf group, led by Hajan Sawadjaan.
However, the Philippine army has been bogged down under heavy fire from the Abu Sayyaf flank, led by Commander Radulan Sahiron, who has killed at least a dozen soldiers, including beheading four in heavy fighting in Jolo since mid April.
According to intelligence sources, there were little signs of Manila getting the upper hand any time soon though they managed to neutralise several Abu Sayyaf gunmen, including Vikram, said to be the grandson of Radulan.
Both Radulan and Sawadjaan remain in control of their strong base of Patikul in the Jolo island.
Eastern Sabah Security Command commander Datuk Hazani Ghazali said they remained alert for any possibility of gunmen running into Sabah waters.