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SULU – Two Indonesian fishermen abducted by gunmen off Sabah in Malaysia were believed taken to the southern Philippine province of Sulu, reports said Friday.

Two masked gunmen abducted Usman Yunus, 35, and Samsul Sagunim, 40, on September 11 off Semporna town despite a strict security and sea curfew imposed by Malaysian authorities following persistent threats posed by Abu Sayyaf militants, blamed by Kuala Lumpur and Manila for 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 two other fishermen, who managed to escape the abduction.

Malaysian newspaper, Daily Express, reported that the duo had been brought to Talipao town in Sulu, one of 5 provinces under the Muslim autonomous region. It also quoted Nicholas Teo, Deputy Director of the Singapore-based Information Sharing Centre of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (Recaap).

Teo said Recaap had learned the kidnappers and their hostages fled on a speedboat towards Tawi-Tawi in southern Philippines and then headed to Sulu. “Recaap believe their final destination is Talipao in Sulu, an area where the Abu Sayyaf group has previously based its kidnapping-for-ransom operations,” Teo said, citing intelligence from the Philippine Coast Guard.

“They (kidnappers) must be desperate. Kidnapping fishermen is not going to get them much money,” the newspaper quoted Teo as saying.

It also quoted another Malaysian security official who said the hostages were brought by their abductors in Talipao town. No individual or group claimed responsibility for the abductions, but the Abu Sayyaf had previously kidnapped Indonesian fishermen and sailors off Sabah and ransomed them off to their employers.

Kuala Lumpur has sought Manila’s assistance in recovering Yunus and Sagunim.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal said the kidnapping was an eye-opener that security measures in Sabah waters should be intensified. He said the incident shows matters should be taken seriously and not lightly as it jeopardises the safety of Sabahans.

“It is an incident though not involving Malaysians but we must be mindful that it is in our own area. It is in our borderline and we have to take all the necessary actions. We have to be mindful that we have to intensify our effort. Double the surveillance here and double the intelligence to make sure that we will be in-the-know of what will come,” Daily Express quoted him as saying.

The abduction occurred just a day before an extended sea curfew is to end September 13 after being imposed for 4 years. Because of the abductions, Sabah has 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.

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.

There was no immediate statement from the Philippine military on the latest abductions, but it 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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