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The BBC's John McLean
"A Muslim separatist group has claimed responsibility for the kidnap"
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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 01:31 GMT 02:31 UK
Philippines separatists' kidnap claim
Sipadan lies close to the lawless seas of the southern Philippines
A Muslim separatist group in the Philippines has said it was responsible for the kidnapping of 20 people from the remote resort island of Sipadan in eastern Malaysia.

The claim was made by Abu Ahmad, a spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf group, in a telephone interview with a radio station in Zamboanga, in the southern Philippines.

There is speculation that the kidnappings might be a diversionary tactic by the Abu Sayyaf, whose main base is being attacked by the Philippines army.

The authorities became suspicious that the group might be involved after reports spoke of the kidnappers being Filipinos and of their boat being seen heading for the Phillipines.

But they said they needed more time to determine whether the group really was involved because the area is well known for piracy.

Checking identity

"We don't just jump and believe the Abu Sayyaf immediately. We will verify and confirm this," said Philippines Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado.

The seas of the southern Philippines have a long tradition of piracy and lawlessness.

The BBC's John McLean in Manila says that, whether the group's kidnapping claim is true or not, its purpose is clearly to divert attention from another hostage crisis on the Philippines island of Basilan.

The Abu Sayyaf says it is holding 27 Filipinos - mostly schoolchildren - on the island, which is its main base.


It has been demanding the release of three men serving life imprisonment for terrorism in the US in return for the hostages, and has threatened to abduct or kill Americans if their demands are not met.

Those imprisoned include Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted of masterminding the World Trade Centre bombing.

James and Mary Murphy
Americans James and Mary Murphy escaped

Philippines armed forces are attacking the base, and the government has now ordered the navy and air force to join the hunt for the second group of hostages, which includes several foreigners.

Malaysian security forces are also pursuing the kidnappers.

Most of those abducted are Malaysians, but they also include two French and three German nationals, two Finns, two South Africans, a Lebanese and two Filipinos.

An American couple, aged 51, and a local marine photographer managed to escape unhurt.

They ran into nearby bushes and waited until help arrived.

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