MANILA - (UPDATED) Masked gunmen kidnapped two Indonesian fishermen in waters off eastern Malaysia where militants from the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) have previously taken hostages, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Sunday.
Five men snatched the two victims late on Saturday from a Malaysian-registered fishing trawler off Sabah. The Army suspects the incident could be the work of Abu Sayyaf rebels.
"The gunmen and their victims sped off towards the southern Philippines," Army spokesman, Major Filemon Tan, told reporters, adding ground and naval units were trying to intercept the assailants.
The perennially poor security situation in the area has prompted the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia to cooperate more closely on bringing the banditry to heel.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said earlier this month after talks with President Rodrigo Duterte that the Philippines had agreed to allow Malaysian and Indonesian maritime forces to pursue the Islamist kidnappers into its waters.
The three countries agreed earlier this year to increase cooperation, including possible joint sea patrols.
The waters between Malaysia's eastern state of Sabah on Borneo island and the southern Philippines have for years seen repeated kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf militant group.
While the Abu Sayyaf's leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, analysts say it is mainly focused on running a kidnapping business rather than religious ideology.
Abu Sayyaf's tactics are brutal, decapitating hostages when ransom demands are not met.
They are holding 22 captives, including a Dutch, a German, a South Korean, five Malaysians, two Indonesians, six Vietnamese and six Filipinos. -- With reports from Reuters and Agence France Presse