April 5, 2023
KUALA LUMPUR – The Abu Sayyaf terrorist group is no longer capable of carrying out cross-border kidnappings in Sabah waters, says a regional source.
This is because they are no longer organised and don’t have foot soldiers familiar with Sabah’s east coast areas, he said.
Furthermore, they are unable to hold their victims in their hideouts in Jolo as the Philippines military continues to strike at their bases and they are on the run.
“That is why many of them are surrendering and hoping for amnesty from Manila,” the source added.
Ironically, some Abu Sayyaf gunmen have fled with their families to Sabah’s southwestern Beaufort district.
But Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) working on a tip-off from Philippine intelligence led Malaysian police to arrest three of them, while five others were killed in a shootout in May 2021.
The Abu Sayyaf group detected in Sabah was not part of the kidnappings in state waters and the three were deported.
The intelligence source said although Sabah may have been enjoying a “breather” in the past two or three years from the kidnap groups, all attempts must be made to ensure no new group takes over that role.
The source said there are concerns with the “orphan children” of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who are unable to find employment and have turned to crime in southern Philippines.
“These orphans, who are now in their 20s and known as the Iliji Group, could become kidnappers in the future if other groups seeking money start to organise them,” the source said, explaining that these Iliji youths have weapons.
Other groups known as the Ajang Ajang and Lucky 9, involved in “instant” kidnappings in Jolo Island, are also possible threats.
Malaysia’s move to work with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to broker peace in Mindanao in 2016 seemed to have slighted the MNLF group under Nur Misuari. The MNLF group has more links via its people and geographically within Sabah.
Malaysia should consider working with MNLF to help resolve security issues in eastern Sabah, the source said.
Current kidnap groups in southern Philippines such as Daulah Islamiah, Jemaah Islamiah and New People Army are mostly involved in kidnappings in the Philippines side.
The source said other threats from southern Philippines can also come from the “Royal Security Force” (often mistakenly called Royal Sulu Force) linked to heirs of the so-called defunct Sulu Sultanate.