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Militants hijack Indonesian ships in Philippines

JAKARTA, March 29 (UPI) — A group of Islamist militants have hijacked a pair of Indonesian-registered ships in Philippine waters, taking 10 citizens hostage, Indonesia’s foreign ministry said Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the two ships, a tugboat and a barge carrying 7,000 tons of coal, were hijacked while traveling from Sungai Putting, Indonesia, to Batangas, Philippines.

“Our priority is the safety of the 10 citizens being held hostage,” she said from Jakarta.

The ship owners were informed of the incident in a telephone call from a person claiming to be a member of Abu Sayyaf, a Philippines-based Islamist fundamentalist group aligned with the Islamic State. Abu Sayyaf has been on the U.S. State Department’s foreign terrorist organization list since 1997.

The Philippine military mobilized troops after intelligence reports said the hostages were taken to the Philippines’ Sulu province by a group led by Alhabshy Misaya, a sub-commander of Sulu’s Abu Sayyaf group. The troops were ordered to pressure the militants into returning the crew members.

The hijackers demanded ransom money, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday, and spoke with the ship owners in two separate calls.

The ministry added that the tugboat, the Brahma 12, and its crew were freed and is now in the custody of Philippines authorities. The location of the barge, the Arand 12, and its 10 crew members are unknown and presumed to be held by the hijackers.

“In handling this case, we’ll continue communicating with various parties in Indonesia and the Philippines, including with the Philippine Foreign Minister,” Retno said.

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