MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine military is trying to verify a claim by Abu Sayyaf militants that they have kidnapped a German man from a yacht and shot and killed his girlfriend in the southern Philippines, a military spokesman said Monday.
Regional military spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan said Abu Sayyaf spokesman Muamar Askali had claimed the militants kidnapped Juegen Kantner and killed his companion while the couple were cruising off neighboring Malaysia.
It's not clear why the woman was purportedly killed but it's possible she may have fought back or tried to escape, Tan and another military official said.
Villagers reported finding a dead woman lying beside a shotgun on board a blue yacht with the German flag and marked "Rock All" off Laparan Island in Sulu province, Tan said. The southern province is where the ransom-seeking militants hold their hostages in tropical jungle encampments.
Marines were deployed to verify the villagers' report and have been ordered "to be careful in approaching the vessel because it might be rigged with explosives."
If the attack on the couple is confirmed, it would be the latest in a wave of attacks at sea by the Abu Sayyaf and allied gunmen despite efforts by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia to jointly shore up security in their busy sea border, where Indonesians and Malaysians have been kidnapped from tugboats and fishing boats in recent months.
The kidnappings have continued despite one of the largest military offensives against the Abu Sayyaf mainly in Sulu and the nearby island province of Basilan that involves more than 6,000 troops, navy gunboats and rocket-firing air force aircraft.
Without a known foreign source of funds, the Abu Sayyaf has survived mostly on ransom kidnappings, extortion and other acts of banditry.
A confidential Philippine government threat assessment report seen by The Associated Press said the militants have pocketed at least 353 million pesos ($7.3 million) from ransom kidnappings in the first six months of the year and have turned to abductions of foreign tugboat crewmen as military offensives restricted their mobility.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in June, has ordered troops to destroy Abu Sayyaf, known for its brutality and ties to some foreign militants, and he has ruled out the possibility of any peace talks with them. He has pursued talks with two other larger Muslim insurgent groups.
Duterte intends to discuss with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak possible solutions to end the Abu Sayyaf kidnapping menace in the region when he makes an overnight visit to Malaysia starting on Wednesday.
The government report said the Abu Sayyaf had 481 fighters with 438 firearms in the first half of the year but the military reported last week that it had killed 70 of the militants and captured 32 others since July.
At least 28 government troops have died and nearly 100 others have been wounded in the military assaults in Basilan and Sulu, a Muslim province about 590 miles (950 kilometers) south of Manila.