View over Sabah mountains. Photo: Ling Low.
View over Sabah mountains. Photo: Ling Low.

Who has been kidnapped?

On 12 July a group of armed men killed one police officer and took another hostage at the Mabul Mabul Water Bungalows Resort on Mabul Island, off Semporna. The kidnappers have contacted the police in Sabah asking for 10 million in ransom for the abducted policeman, although they did not specify in what currency.

It’s not the first time in the past year, right?

This incident is the latest in a series of recent abductions off the eastern coast of Sabah. On 16 June a 32-year-old Malaysian fish breeder and his Filipino employee were seized by gunmen from their farm. On 2 April 2014 armed men abducted a Chinese tourist, and a Filipino hotel employee from Singamata Reef Resort in Semporna. On 15 November 2013, a Taiwanese man was killed and his wife kidnapped after being attacked in their hotel room in Sipadan.

Where are the kidnappings happening?

The abductions are concentrated around the east coast of Sabah, and islands close to the Sulu Archipelago in the Southern Philippines, such as Lankayan, Mabul, Pom Pom, Kapalai, Litigan, Sipadan, and Mataking.

Who are the kidnappers?

Esscom intelligence director Datuk Ahmad Nadzer Nordin said that based on intelligence network, there are 14 kidnap-for-ransom groups from southern Philippines, and at least four of them had carried out kidnappings in Sabah’s east coast. This includes the notorious Abu Sayyaf group, responsible for the abduction of 21 people in Sipadan in May 2000. According to Filipino sources, a rising leader in the Abu Sayyaf terrorist organisation is suspected to be holding the abducted policeman in a mountainous jungle hideout in the island of Jolo in southern Philippines.

Why are people being kidnapped?

Kidnap-for-ransom groups active in the southern Philippines and off Sabah’s east coast such as the Mukhtadir brothers normally “sell” their victims to Abu Sayyaf (or Abu Sayyaf linked) groups, who then negotiate with the victims’ families for their release, while most victims are usually released unharmed.

Who are Abu Sayyaf?

According to The United States Counterterrorism Center, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is the most violent Islamic separatist group in southern Philippines, claiming to advocate an independent Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. The group split from the Moro National Liberation Front in the early 1990s, and currently engages in kidnappings for ransom, bombings, assassinations, and extortion. The ASG operates mainly in Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi Provinces in the Sulu Archipelago and has a presence on Mindanao.

Why are these invasions happening in these parts of East Malaysia?

Militant islamist and/or separatist groups such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and its offshoots such as Abu Sayyaf are present and active among these remote islands, and have been since the 1970s. Since the areas concerned are populated by small and isolated islands, the area is also difficult to track and monitor.

There is a growing concern among the Sabah’s security forces that cross-border criminals possibly bribed Malaysian officials to look the other way. Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein admitted recently that corruption and leakages were among the causes for repeated foreign attacks into Sabah.

How has the government reacted to the latest kidnapping?

The Royal Malaysian Navy requested that security forces be given power to shoot on sight any suspicious targets approaching Sabah waters. A dusk-to-dawn curfew was also imposed on six districts of eastern Sabah. Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that the government will not entertain ransom demands.

Navshed Navin