40 Kidnapping Attempts Foiled Since 2018, Says ESSCom

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HAZANI GHAZALI

LAHAD DATU: The security forces have thwarted 40 kidnapping attempts in the waters off seven districts in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZone) since 2018.

Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom) commander Hazani Ghazali said this was due to the close cooperation of the police, armed forces and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

He said measures to enhance security by tightening control at risky routes were able to detect the kidnap-for-ransom activities carried out by terrorist groups from the southern Philippines.

“If we were to look back to 2017, there were no abduction cases. There were two cases in 2018 and another two in 2019.

“We have been able to foil several kidnapping attempts since 2018 because when ESSCom receives information, all our personnel and assets are immediately deployed,” he told Bernama.

Hazani said resorts on the east coast of Sabah have been the target of kidnappers since 2000. This led to the establishment of ESSCom in 2013.

“Curfews were also enforced in the waters off the ESSZone to prevent kidnappings. At the same time, security personnel were stationed at the resorts as these were places where abductions were likely to occur,” he said.

On the abduction of five Indonesian fishermen by the Abu Sayyaf group on Jan 16 in Tambisan, which was the same area where another three Indonesian fishermen were kidnapped in September, Hazani said an intelligence report about the matter was received.

However, they did not expect the incident to happen during the day.

“The kidnappers operate near the Philippines international border so that they can easily escape with the victims,” he said, adding that the group was assisted by spies who track the victims and presence of the security forces.

As such, he hoped the enforcement of curfews would be concentrated in the hotspot areas which serve as cross-border crime routes, among them the waters off Pulau Sipadan and Pulau Mabul in Semporna, Pulau Ligitan (Tawau) and Geem Reef (Tambisan, Lahad Datu).