Asia Philippine police: kidnappers scout for victims online

Philippine police: kidnappers scout for victims online

Zamboanga City
Zamboanga City Police chief Angelito Casimiro

(AA) – Philippine police have called on residents of a predominantly Christian city in the Muslim south to be cautious in using social media so they do not fall prey to kidnappers operating in the region.

Senior Superintendent Angelito Casimiro, Zamboanga City police director, told the Anadolu Agency on Thursday that they have received information on kidnappers from Sulu province using Facebook to scout for victims in the city.

“You are opening up your houses and family to possible trouble,” he warned. “Be careful of what you share online.”

Casimiro explained that the sharing of locations, house photographs and other personal details online could increase residents’ risk of kidnapping, which – along with bombings — remains the top threat in Zamboanga.

He added that police were engaging communities to employ early warning mechanisms, amid the intensification of coastline patrol and sea-borne operations.

“If you look at the nearby provinces, that’s where the kidnappers are doing their activities as they believe that Zamboanga City is being hardened, and we will continue to do the hardening of Zamboanga City,” he stressed.

Casimiro’s warning comes in the wake of kidnappers demanding a 60 million Philippine peso ($1.34 million) ransom for the release of the grandchild of a local mayor and a teenager seized in nearby Zamboanga del Sur province earlier this month.

Ace Jay Garban, 3, a grandchild of Pitogo Mayor Richard Garban; his 2-year-old younger sister, Zynielle; and bakery worker Ledegie Tomarong, 17, were seized by 10 gunmen during a March 31 failed attempt to kidnap a local businesswoman in Pitogo town.

Police said the gunmen fled aboard three motorized boats, which sped towards the neighboring province of Zamboanga Sibugay, some 90 kilometers from Zamboanga.

Fishermen had subsequently found the body of Zynielle Garban in the sea, with police believing she had been strangled as she had bruises around her neck.

Kidnap-for-ransom gangs frequently operate in the Zamboanga peninsula region – Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga City.

The gangs are known to turn their captives over to Abu Sayyaf and negotiate for a ransom that, if paid, is shared with the al-Qaeda-linked group.

In July last year, the nine-year-old daughter of a businessman was snatched in Olutanga town, Zamboanga Sibugay, at a family-owned eatery, and a school official was taken in August.

This year, the gangs snared a Korean businessman in January and a head teacher and teacher in March.

The kidnappers use isolated sea-lanes and coastal areas to grab their victims, who are then held captive in isolated Muslim villages in the peninsula.

Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf — armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles — has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.

It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.