Paying the heavy price to stay alive

ON the night of April 4, a Filipino contact informed me via Facebook messenger that a Malaysian KV (kidnap victim) was rescued near Jolo island and he was on board a helicopter bound for Zamboanga City.

“If KV is rescued, someone paid for his ransom. But I thought Malaysia didn’t want to pay for his release,” I replied.

I was referring to Jari Abdullah, a 34-year-old fisherman from Kam­pung Sim in Sandakan.

Jari was kidnapped with two Indonesians on Dec 5 while they were on a fishing trawler in the Pegasus Reef area in Kinabatangan waters close to Tawi Tawi island in southern Philippines.

Intel sources had informed me that nobody was interested in paying for Jari, who unlike other Malaysian hostages, did not gene­rate enough public sympathy for his plight. Usually, public pressure could force someone kind-hearted to facilitate ransom payment.

“The victim was rescued during a hot pursuit operation conducted by the marines,” the source said.

“Ok. That scenario is believable,” I replied.

Believable because if no ransom was paid, the only way a hostage could be freed was through a military operation.

Later that night, I was told that Jari was shot in the head, chest and groin as he escaped from his Abu Sayyaf captors during a gunfight with Philippine marines at Simisa island near Jolo island.

The fact that Jari was shot was evidence to me that it was a real rescue attempt.

Usually, the media would report that a gunfight ensued and then the hostage was rescued. But when you talked to the hostage, he would tell a different story.

Take for example a Malaysian hostage I spoke to who was “rescued” on Jolo island. To protect his identity, I will not name him.

In the east coast of Sabah, weeks after he was released, the former hostage told me that Abu Sayyaf gunmen (ASG) put him in a boat and left him at sea. Hours later, masked men in civilian clothes arrived in a boat and claimed that they were soldiers who came to rescue him.

At first, he was suspicious as they looked like Abu Sayyaf gunmen. He was brought to shore and put into a vehicle.

“I thought they might kill me. And I was ready for any eventuality,” he told me.

Later when the vehicle stopped at a military checkpoint near Jolo town, he realised they were really from AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines).

The news report that came out about his release was the standard – there was a gun battle between AFP and ASG and the hostage was rescued. In Jari’s case, there was really a gun battle.

His freedom, however, was short-lived. He was in critical condition.

Five days later, in a private hospital in Zamboanga City, his mother and family consented to removal of his life support. He died at about 1.30pm.

He was not the only one to die in the rescue operation.

A day after Jari’s rescue, the ASG captors under the command of sub-leader Najir Arik with the Indo­nesian hostages tried to escape pursuing troops by swimming from Simisa island to Bangalao island. Heri Ardiansyah was rescued but Hariadin (who is believed to be a weak swimmer) drowned.

Their death raises the question of whether it is wise to pay ransom or to allow the military to launch a rescue mission.

Not paying ransom will mean that the KFR (kidnap for ransom) group might not continue to abduct as for them, kidnapping is a money-­making business.

But sometimes it is easy to say that the no-ransom policy is good.

I have been with the family of kidnap victims. When I listen to the family’s plight, from just a name, the KV now has a face.

It is harrowing to listen to what they are experiencing having someone they love in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of Jolo island. And sometimes I pray that someone kind-hearted will pay for their release.

But paying ransom also has its risk.

About 30 million pesos (RM2.7mil at that time) was raised to buy the freedom of Bernard Then, a 39-year-old Sarawakian, and restaurant ­ma­­­­na­­ger Thien Nyuk Fun, a 50-year-old Sabahan, who were kidnapped in Sandakan in May 2015.

When the negotiator met the captors in Jolo to exchange the money for the two hostages, the ASG lea­ders fought among themselves on how much was the price for one hostage.

Thien was released but Then was held for more payment.

A few weeks later, the ASG beheaded Then over several reasons. One of them was the fight over ransom money as there was a suspicion that someone along the way took some of the million pesos.

So far, three Malaysians held in Sulu province (where Jolo island is located) have died. The other one is Tung Wee Wei from Negri Sembilan who died of sickness while in captivity in 2013.

The cage is almost empty on Jolo island. The KFR group will be on the prowl to fill it.

If they do succeed, we have to rethink whether we should or should not pay ransom.

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