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ZAMBOANGA CITY – Two masked gunmen abducted two Indonesian fishermen off Semporna town in Sabah despite a strict security and sea curfew imposed by Malaysian authorities following persistent threats posed by Abu Sayyaf militants.

Malaysia’s the Star Online reported Wednesday that two other fishermen managed to hide in one of the compartments of their boat. It said police were investigating whether the gunmen have links with the Abu Sayyaf or criminal groups from Tawi-Tawi province in southern Philippines which have carried out ransom kidnappings in the past in Sabah.

The attackers, armed with automatic rifles, were speaking in Tausug, a dialect commonly used in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, according to the two fishermen, who identified their abducted companions as Usman Yunus, 35, and Samsul Sagunim, 40.

“Based on the account of the two fishermen who managed to flee, Omar said they heard the sound of a pump boat approaching their vessel as it was docking at the jetty. The two men went to hide themselves. And from a hole in the compartment, they saw two armed men in dark clothing boarding their boat.”

“When they got out of their hiding place, they discovered that their crew mates and the boat’s radio were missing. The armed men were said to have spoken in the Suluk dialect,” the report said.

Police said all four Indonesians had earlier gone fishing with 11 other fishermen near Pulau Gaya in the past three days. The 11 fishermen then headed to shore to deliver their catch. The abduction occurred just a day before an extended sea curfew is to end September 13 after four years.

Sabah extended its curfew covering three nautical miles off Tawau, Semporna, Kunak, Lahad Datu, Kinabatangan, Sandakan and Beluran – all near the border of Tawi-Tawi’s chain of islands.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Ramli Din as saying that the decision to extend the curfew was made based on continuous threats from cross-border criminals, including from kidnap-for-ransom groups and the Abu Sayyaf. Ramli said police intelligence indicated that kidnap-for-ransom groups and Abu Sayyaf militants were still trying to commit cross-border crimes.

The curfew was implemented on July 19, 2014, following a series of kidnappings which saw the beheading of Sarawakian Bernard Then Ted Fed and the killing of several others, including a policeman and tourists.

In August, a group of gunmen also attempted to abduct crew members of a tugboat in Sabah. At least 10 armed men were involved in the failed abduction near Lahad Datu’s Tambisan area after crew members locked themselves in a room. The armed men managed to sneak into Sabah and boarded the tug boat on the evening of August 9.

Crew members quickly radioed for help and patrolling members of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) responded immediately and forced the gunmen to escape. Esscom commander Datuk Hazani Ghazali said the crewmen were ferrying palm oil from Felda Sabahat in Tengku and on their way to Kuantan when the gunmen on motorboat came alongside their boat in Tambisan waters near the Tawi-Tawi chain of islands.

Malaysia and Indonesia have a border patrol agreement with the Philippines and share regular intelligence and conduct trilateral maritime patrols to prevent piracy and terrorism, including ransom kidnappings of sailors in the maritime borders.

The military previously said that security is tight in the border to prevent Abu Sayyaf kidnappings inside Sabah or in the waters of Tawi-Tawi which is frequented by cargo boats. The Abu Sayyaf is still holding several foreign hostages in the restive southern region. (Mindanao Examiner)


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