MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The United States and Britain have warned their citizens to stay away from a southern Philippine region where suspected Muslim extremists are behind a wave of kidnappings, including those of 18 Indonesian and Malaysian tugboat crewmen.
The U.S. State Department warned Americans in an advisory Thursday to defer non-essential travel to the Sulu archipelago "due to the high threat of kidnapping of international travelers, increased threat of maritime kidnappings against small boats ... and violence linked to insurgency and terrorism there."
The British government on Wednesday issued a similar travel warning, citing, "a high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping."
Abu Sayyaf militants have been suspected of seizing the Indonesian and Malaysian crewmen at gunpoint in separate attacks on three tugboats in recent weeks, sparking security concerns in the region.
Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines plan to convene a meeting of maritime officials to discuss ways to boost security along their sea borders, including using satellite technology to spot suspicious vessels and stop them before a possible attack.
Abu Sayyaf, which currently has about 400 armed fighters split into several factions, has relied on huge ransoms earned from kidnappings, including of U.S. and other Western tourists and missionaries, and extortion to survive for more than two decades.