Three fishermen taken by gunmen near a popular tourist resort island off Malaysia’s Sabah state in the latest kidnapping are Filipinos who are part of a 16-member crew of a Malaysian fishing trawler.
The kidnapping may have been ordered by a notorious sub-commander of the Abu Sayyaf, Alhabsy Misaya, who is believed to have fled the militant group’s stronghold of Jolo Island to the Tawi Tawi Islands in the Philippines, said a Philippine official who was not named.
Malaysian police have identified the three victims as skipper Masurin, in his 50s, and crew members Loloi bin Alpin and Sami, both in their 30s.
All three men are from the Philippine Bajau ethnic group.
They were taken by seven masked gunmen who raided the Malaysia-registered trawler which was anchored off Pom Pom Island on Saturday night.
Sabah Police Commissioner Abdul Rashid Harun said the gunmen ordered the crew to lie down before robbing them of their money, cellphones and other valuables.
The gunmen also assaulted the three men whom they kidnapped and another crew member.
The remaining crew returned to Semporna in Sabah after the ordeal, and the vessel owner lodged a police report early on Sunday.
It was unclear how the gunmen slipped through the security cordon off Sabah’s east coast, where Malaysian security forces have been maintaining their defence since a series of kidnappings.
The authorities have said that several new initiatives, including more firepower, will be implemented to boost security in Sabah.
Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said these measures would include deploying 20 armoured vehicles in Lahad Datu and four more Agusta helicopters equipped with Gatling gun systems.
The army, he said, would also be placing the Eastern Sabah Security Command Brigade at Felda Sahabat to beef up security in that area.
The Philippine military is now on the hunt for Abu Sayyaf militants, who are holding five Malaysians hostage on Jolo Island.
At least 25 Indonesians have also been taken by the group this year.