ZAMBOANGA CITY – Gunmen attacked two fishing trawlers in Sabah in Malaysia and seized 10 crew members in a daring assault at dawn Tuesday, Malaysian media reports said.
It said the attackers were believed allied with the pro-ISIS group Abu Sayyaf and may have escaped along with their hostages to Sitangkay Island in the southern Filipino province of Tawi-Tawi, just 15 minutes by speedboat.
The hijacking occurred despite tight security being imposed by Malaysian police and military forces in Sabah due to persistent threats of ransom kidnappings and attacks by the Abu Sayyaf.
The Star Online said the trawlers were attacked near Tambisan Island off Lahad Datu town at around 2 a.m. The boats were heading to Semporna town when gunmen on two speedboats intercepted the vessels and kidnapped the crew members – four from one trawler and six on the other.
The identities of the fishing crew were not immediately known, but the report said the victims could be all Filipinos who have been living in Sabah since the 1970s.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Omar Mammah said they were aware of the kidnapping incident, but has yet to receive any official reports. News reports claimed the trawlers were sailing during curfew hours without a permit and the crew members were heading to Semporna to renew their permits.
Just recently, Datuk Seri Abdul Hamid Bador, the Inspector-General of Police, warned that threats of kidnappings and cross-border raids by the Abu Sayyaf remain high, adding, attacks could happen any day at any time.
He said the threats remain despite the establishment of Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) and martial law in several areas in the state.
“As such, Esscom will be restructured on the placement of security forces involving the Malaysian Armed Forces, police as well as the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. Among others, the restructuring will involve the structure of security in the areas and the change of security posts which have been taken over by police and MAF would be updated,” he said.
Abdul Hamid said the restructuring process is being carried out by the National Security Council (NSC) to further strengthen Esscom. “The threats to the islands of Sabah were there every day. This is because Sabah is very near to the Philippines and it only takes 15 minutes by speedboat to reach Philippines waters,” he said, noting that it is easy for the Abu Sayyaf to intrude into Malaysian waters.
He said the Philippine government earlier created an overall security control in Sulu (Archipelago) islands near Kunak, as well Lahad Datu in Sabah, and the new measure has eased our concerns,” Abdul Hamid said, but nonetheless, Esscom needed to be on the alert on any threats when conducting operation. (The Zamboanga Post)
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