MANILA, Philippines — Gunmen abducted two children, their nanny and a driver while on the way to school Monday in a southern Philippine region notorious for ransom kidnappings by Islamic militants, military officials said.
The driver and nanny were taking a 10-year-old boy and his 8-year-old cousin to school when about five men with M16 rifles in a jeep bumped their van and dragged the four away in Jolo town in Sulu province, marine Capt. Ryan Lacuesta said.
The abduction alarmed school officials and parents in the poor, predominantly Muslim province, Lacuesta said.
Abu Sayyaf extremists and small kidnap gangs were among the suspects.
"This is really condemnable because they targeted this time innocent children, who may not be able to withstand such a situation and the trauma," Lacuesta said.
Marines and police were deployed to Sulu's coastal Patikul town, where the Abu Sayyaf has a number of jungle camps, in an effort to track down the abductors and their captives, according to a police report.
The military was investigating another reported abduction of a 9-year-old boy in Sulu's Indanan town on Sunday. The boy was reportedly snatched from in front of his house by two motorcycle-riding men, Lacuesta said.
Abu Sayyaf militants still hold several captives in their jungle camps in Sulu's mountainous hinterlands, including two European bird watchers who were kidnapped two years ago. Sulu is about 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila.
The Abu Sayyaf, which is on a U.S. list of terrorist groups, is one of at least three armed Islamic groups outside of a peace deal the government expects to sign soon with the main insurgent group in the south, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.