BY DENNIS RUDOLPH [BT Crime Desk]
KOTA KINABALU: As if to thumb their noses to Sabah security, a group of cross border criminals are said to have abducted, yet again, the owner of a fishing boat shortly after 10pm Tuesday, in waters between Semporna and Lahad Datu.
This put the security forces in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) into a frenzy and all sea borders with neighbouring southern Philippines were immediately sealed off.
However, Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) Commander Datuk Wan Abdul Bari Wan Abdul Khalid said they were verifying various reports of the incident.
“I cannot confirm anything until I get some details,” Wan Bari said when contacted late Tuesday night.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun said he had yet to receive the report on the incident.
But sources on the ground said security forces in east coast Sabah had gone on alert amid fears of the latest possible kidnapping.
In a brief Bernama despatch quoting a source, the victims were believed to have been kidnapped while fishing at about 10.08pm.
The report said all fishermen out at sea are being alerted.
The irony of it all was earlier Tuesday, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Haji Aman called on security forces in the State to go all out to stop human smuggling activities so as to prevent Abu Sayyaf gunmen and militants fleeing fighting in southern Philippines.
He said that there was a need to curb all human smuggling activities in view of Philippines government operations to wipe out extremist and kidnap for ransom groups.
“There is a possibility that these terrorists might try to escape into Sabah as ordinary immigrants,’’ he said after chairing the State Security Council meeting Tuesday.
“All necessary measures are being taken by various agencies to ensure the state’s security remains at high levels of alert against any threat, especially in the ESSZONE (Eastern Sabah Security Zone) area.’’
Musa ordered security forces to tighten security at all known legal and illegal entry points to check on such activities.
It was also reported earlier Tuesday that two notorious cross border criminals, brothers Nixon and Brown Muktadil, had been shot dead.
Nixon, the leader of the Muktadil gang, his brother Brown and others were involved in a series of kidnappings for ransom which victimized 26 Filipinos, Malaysians and Indonesians.
The spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command said Tuesday afternoon that troopers from the Joint Task Force Sulu, assisted by volunteers from Panglima Estino town, conducted operations against the siblings in Tambulian Island in Pata municipality.
The two, who were armed, resisted arrest Tuesday morning and were killed in the process.
He added that the fall of the Muktadil brothers is a major blow to the Abu Sayyaf, as the siblings served as sea guides and navigators during the group’s conduct of kidnapping in the high seas.
Earlier, Philippine government authorities also arrested or neutralized other members of the Muktadil gang.
Another brother, Mindas, was killed in a shootout with law enforcement officials in Jolo, Sulu in May last year. Khadafy Muktadil was arrested in November last year, also in Jolo, and is currently in jail.
Upon instructions of President Rodrigo Duterte, nine police and military battalions, comprising some 9,000 personnel, have been deployed to and are conducting concerted security and law enforcement operations in suspected ASG hideouts in the island provinces of Sulu and Basilan.
A significant number of unregistered motorized boats have been confiscated in recent days in Sulu and nearby waters, hampering the potential movements of ASG elements. A blockade by Philippine Navy elements is also in place.