Philippines police have reportedly beefed up the security on the tourist island of Cebu, after the US embassy in Manila issued a warning on Thursday (3 November) to its citizens that "terrorists" could be planning kidnappings there.
"The US embassy alerts US citizens that terrorist groups are planning to conduct kidnappings in areas frequented by foreigners on southern portions of Cebu island," the alert read.
The security advisory came after regional police said to media that six Abu Sayyaf rebels were in Cebu. It is also reported that some text messages were passed around by Cebu residents warning people not to travel to the southern Cebu as the militants were allegedly planning to do kidnappingsthere.
The US embassy identified three locations – Dalaguete, Santander on Cebu and nearby Sumilon island – and said its citizens should avoid travelling to these areas. It also reminded them to "review personal security plans" and "be vigilant" all the time. However, the warning said it had no specific information of the kidnap threat.
The Filipino authorities on Friday (4 November) have confirmed the reports of kidnapping threats in southern Cebu, which they are validating. But the Philippine National Police (PNP) are thought to be not taking the threat in a lighter vein.
"There was indeed a police report regarding a plan to stage a kidnapping in southern Cebu. The report is in the process of being validated," Reuters quoted presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella as saying. "The PNP commanders at various levels have taken the necessary steps to harden or protect possible targets."
Although the US embassy did not name any specific group behind the alleged kidnapping plan, it has been asked to justify its travel advisory to avoid "confusion" among local and foreign visitors.
Michael Lloyd Dino, presidential assistant for the Visayas region, said south Cebu remains safe for travellers, according to Inquirer.net online news portal.
"I am in close coordination with the police authorities in the region. The police have assured me that they do not have any verified reports about the alleged threats," Dino said in a statement. "The areas stated in the travel warning are secured and safe. The situation is normal and the tourists continue to enjoy the sights and the beautiful destinations undisturbed."
The warning and the subsequent security measures have came after a surge in kidnappings by Islamic militants in the southern part of the country. Some terror groups have attacked cargo ships and have murdered foreigners for not paying the ransoms they demanded in the region. Several militant groups in the strife-torn south have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (Isis) group.
One of the most notorious groups is the Abu Sayyaf militant network, which was formed in the 1990s and has links to the al-Qaeda. The terror outfit is reported to be known for gaining tens of millions of dollars from kidnappings for ransom.
President Rodrigo Duterte has deployed troops in several southern islands to eliminate the group, which has beheaded two Canadian this year after abducting them from a holiday resort in Mindanao.