KOTA KINABALU – Eight Filipinos who are members of the Abu Sayyaf group have been arrested in a special operation in Taman Sri Arjuna, Beaufort, said Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hazani Ghazali.
He said they were nabbed with 29 other Philippine nationals in a mangrove swamp area during the operation conducted by police and the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom) at 3am two days ago.
“We have checked with the Philippine security forces, and they confirmed that the eight men are members of the Abu Sayyaf group who escaped to Sabah following an operation conducted by the security forces in the southern part of the country.
‘’The check also found that two of the Abu Sayyaf group members are named in the list of men wanted by the Philippine government,’’ he told a media conference which was also attended by ESSCom commander Datuk Ahmad Fuad Othman at the Sabah police contingent headquarters here today.
He said preliminary investigations found those detained were not involved in kidnap for ransom in the state and were believed to be using Sabah as a hiding place.
He said the two wanted by the Philippine government were involved in battles against its security forces and kidnapping of foreigners in the Philippines.
Those arrested have been remanded for seven days from yesterday, and this success was the result of cooperation between police, ESSCom and the security forces of the Philippines, he added.
He said the investigation would focus on establishing how and when the eight entered Malaysia and whether an Abu Sayyaf cell existed in Sabah or if they had received help from the Daesh terrorist group.
“We seized from them several documents including temporary Malaysian identification receipts believed to be fake.
“They are also suspected to have brought in firearms from the Philippines but we could not find these weapons yet.
“We want to know who their established contacts are in Sabah. Legal action will be taken against anyone found in cahoots with them,” he said.
Hazani said all district police chiefs would continue to work with the local authorities to take action against illegal settlements, adding that so far 624 illegal settlements had been identified, with 90 per cent being water villages.
“I would urge all village heads and communities to identify their fellow villagers and to report anything suspicious to the authorities so that we can conduct examinations together.
“Employers should not arbitrarily recruit workers without conducting background checks, in case they are former terrorists,” he said.
He said police and ESSCom would strengthen security control, especially at sea, to prevent illegal immigrants from entering.
He said from 2014 until last year, 83 terrorists had been detained by police in Sabah with the assistance of security forces.
Most of them were hiding in the interior of Sabah west coast, as they wanted to avoid the tight security imposed by ESSCom in the east coast, he said.
“There were only two cases of arrests in Semporna and Sandakan (east coast). The rest were all detained in the interior of the west coast,” he added.