From the Mindanao Examiner (May 10): U.S. sounds terror alarm in Philippines
The United States have advised ships and mariners to remain vigilant when transiting the Sulu and Celebes Seas following the spate of piracy and ransom kidnappings by the ISIS-affiliate Abu Sayyaf group in the southern Philippines.
The Maritime Administration under the U.S. Department of Transportation said over the past 12 months, there have been at least 14 reported kidnappings and one murder, of which at least 10 incidents were reportedly linked to Abu Sayyaf.
“U.S. flag vessels are advised to remain vigilant and adhere to the counter-piracy annex of their approved Vessel Security Plan when transiting the Sulu and Celebes Seas, in light of recent boardings and kidnappings for ransom that have taken place in the area.”
“Previously, only towing and fishing vessels were targeted and crewmembers kidnapped. However, since October 2016, ASG has reportedly targeted three large commercial vessels and one yacht. In November 2016, ASG boarded a German yacht and killed one crewmember, and in February 2017 killed the remaining crewmember after a ransom demand was not met. Thus far, no U.S. vessels have been involved in these incidents,” it said in an advisory dated May 8.
The Maritime Administration further reminded U.S. flag vessels and mariners to report all suspicious activities and events to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center and provided a telephone number 800-424-8802 to call. It added a Ship Hostile Action Report (SHAR) should also be sent to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as soon as possible following an incident or suspected activity including apparent surveillance being conducted by small vessels or boats.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila also warned American citizens from travelling to Palawan province after receiving intelligence that terrorist groups may be planning to kidnap foreigners there.
“The U.S. Embassy has received credible information that terrorist groups may be planning to conduct kidnapping operations targeting foreign nationals in the areas of Palawan Province, Philippines, to include Puerto Princesa City, and the areas surrounding Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. U.S citizens are advised to carefully consider this information as they make their travel plans and to review personal security plans, avoid large crowds and gatherings, and remain vigilant at all times,” it said.
It also said that there is an ongoing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests abroad, including the Philippines, citing the most recent Worldwide Caution dated March 6, 2017. It added that extremists have targeted sporting events, theatres, markets, mass transportation systems, including airlines, and other public venues where large crowds gather. Crowded nightclubs, shopping malls, buses and popular restaurants have also been targets.
“U.S. citizens should be mindful of the importance of taking preventative measures to ensure their safety and security while traveling and residing in the Philippines,” the Embassy said.