Reuters International

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Gunmen kidnapped three Indonesian tugboat crew off Malaysia's eastern state of Sabah, police said on Sunday, the latest in a string of abductions in a region noted for kidnappings by Islamist militants.

It was not immediately clear whether the men were seized by Abu Sayyaf, a group linked to Islamic State that is responsible for recent beheadings of Western hostages and notorious for the extortion of millions of dollars in ransoms.

The tugboat, with a crew of seven, was in waters off the east coast of Sabah on Borneo island, about 8 nautical miles from shore, regional marine police said, when it was attacked by armed men in a white boat late on Saturday.

"The suspects inquired who had their passports with them, and the three who did were taken into their boat, while the four who did not were left behind," marine police said in a media statement.

The five armed abductors spoke in Malay and the local Suluk dialect, the police added. Police in Sabah are expected to hold a news conference later on Sunday.

In Jakarta, the Indonesian foreign ministry said it had no information yet on the abductions.

The Abu Sayyaf militant group has beheaded two Canadian nationals recently after its ransom deadlines expired. It is still holding men from Japan, the Netherlands and Norway.

(Reporting by Kuala Lumpur bureau; Additional reporting by Jakarta bureau; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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