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News Briefs

Gunmen Take Foreign Tourists Hostage Off Malaysian Coast


Masked gunmen abducted 20 people, most of them foreign tourists, from a resort island off Malaysia’s Borneo coast and spirited them away on fishing boats in a bizarre kidnapping that authorities said Monday could be connected to an Islamic insurgency in the southern Philippines.

Malaysian Defense Minister Najib Razak said that an air and sea search operation located the boats carrying the captive tourists Monday night, 24 hours after the abduction, and that the hostages apparently had not been harmed. His Philippine counterpart, Orlando Mercado, said the gunmen and their hostages appeared to be sailing for the southern Philippines, the scene of a secessionist guerrilla war, and that the Philippine Navy will coordinate with the Malaysian Navy to try to intercept the boats and free the captives.

The half-dozen attackers, who were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, burst into the restaurant of a resort on Malaysia’s Sipadan Island on Sunday night, taking cash and jewelry from the hostages before forcing them to swim to two fishing boats anchored offshore, Malaysian Police Inspector General Norian Mai told reporters.

Two Americans were part of the tourist group -- composed mostly of scuba divers -- but they escaped and hid in nearby woods as the others were herded to the boats and carried away into the night on the Celebes Sea. Malaysian officials said the hostages included nine Malaysians, three Germans, two Frenchmen, two South Africans, two Finns, one Lebanese and one Filipino.

In Race for House, Some Challengers Outraise Incumbents


A surprising number of challengers in House races have collected substantial sums of money, upsetting the conventional wisdom that only incumbents can attract significant interest from contributors early on during a congressional campaign.

In what is already the costliest House contest in the nation, California state Sen. Adam Schiff, a Democrat, has raised $1.9 million and has nearly as much cash as his opponent, GOP Rep. James E. Rogan. Trying to regain his old New Jersey House seat, former Republican representative Dick Zimmer has collected nearly $1 million, including thousands from political action committees that traditionally focus on incumbents.

The fundraising success of challengers and of candidates vying for seats where there is no incumbent seeking reelection -- known as open seats -- is a striking feature of this hotly competitive campaign year, particularly for Democrats. All told, 20 Democratic challengers or candidates seeking open seats have raised at least $500,000 so far, compared with three at this point in the 1998 elections, according to campaign disclosure reports filed this month. Sixteen nonincumbent Democrats each has more than $400,000 cash on hand, compared with one in 1998.

Challengers have traditionally found it difficult to come anywhere near incumbents in fundraising, because savvy donors usually see such campaigns as a waste of their money.