MS Risk Blog

Kidnap Plot Targeting Tourists in the Philippines

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Western governments warned this month that terrorists are planning to kidnap foreigners in tourist hotspots across the Philippines following a foiled abduction attempt by Islamist group Abu Sayyaf last month.

The United States Embassy has warned that there is a kidnapping threat on the western island of Palawan, which is one of the most popular destinations in the Philippines. According to the travel advisory, “the US Embassy has received credible information that terrorist groups may be planning to conduct kidnapping operations targeting foreign nationals in the areas of Palawan.” The warning identified two locations: the capital city of Puerto Princesa and a nearby underground river that attracts thousands of visitors every day. It comes as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has insisted that security has been increased on the island of Palawan. Similar warnings have been issued by the Canadian and British embassies, highlighting concerns in the Philippines, Bohol, Dumaguete, Siquijor and Cebu in particular.

Puerto Princesa is located around 240 miles from the southern islands that are strongholds for the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which has pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and which has kidnapped foreigners in the past.  While the militant group has typically targeted coastal areas after travelling from their southern island strongholds on speedboats, they may be changing their tactics in a bid to kidnap foreigners to seek larger ransom payments, which in turn fund their operations.

Last month, ASG militants attempted to carry out a kidnapping on Bohol island, in central Philippines, however they were foiled after authorities became aware of the plot. Security forces discovered the militants just a day after they arrived on speedboats from Bohol and engaged them in a gun battle. According to the authorities, nine militants, three soldiers and on policeman were killed in the clashes, with another militant dying in police custody. The Bohol raid occurred just days after the US Embassy issued a warning of kidnappings in Bohol and the neighbouring island of Cebu.

Last year the militant group beheaded two Canadian citizens while in February, it beheaded an elderly German sailor. All three hostages were killed after ransom demands were not met. In 2001, the group raided a resort in Puerto Princesa’s Honda Bay, abducting three Americans and seventeen Filipinos. One of the Americans was beheaded, a second was killed in a military rescue attempt a year later while the third was freed.