Sabah kidnappers were involved in two other abduction cases

Sabah Kidnapping

(Today) – The kidnappers of the two women from a beach resort on an island off the coast of Sabah were also involved in the high-profile abduction of a Taiwanese woman from Pom Pom Island last year as well as 21 people from Sipadan Island in 2000.

This was revealed yesterday by the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) Director-General Mohammad Mentek, who added that based on intelligence received, Chinese tourist Gao Huayuan, 29, and Filipino resort employee Marcy Dayawan, 40, were being held on an island in southern Philippines by gunmen from Abu Sayyaf, a militant group with links to Al Qaeda, and have not been physically harmed.

Malaysian media reported a statement issued by Mr Mohammad in which he said: “We believe that this particular kidnap-for-ransom group is active and aggressive in the southern Philippines.”

He added that Esscom did not rule out the possibility that locals originally from the Philippines were involved in providing information to the kidnappers. The victims were abducted on Wednesday from Singamata island off the coastal town of Semporna in Sabah.

Mr Mohammad said before the incident, security forces had spotted five boats attempting to enter the waters of Semporna.

“The presence of our forces in the area managed to deter four boats from entering Semporna waters,” he was quoted as saying, without elaborating what happened to the fifth boat.

He said 15 foreign workers at the floating water resort where the kidnapping took place have been arrested for not having valid identification documents. He added that he has directed the Immigration Department to carry out a full investigation and take action, including against the operator for hiring foreigners without valid documents.

“Despite repeated reminders being issued, including during the recent meeting with Sabah tourism centres or resort operators, many still refuse to comply. So, we will not compromise on this matter anymore,” he said.

Sabah has become a popular destination for Chinese tourists in recent years but has faced security problems due to its proximity to the restive southern Philippines, where Muslim rebels have fought the government for decades and sprouted multiple armed splinter groups.

Last February, more than 100 armed Filipinos landed by boat and launched attacks on Malaysian security forces, sparking a major security crisis in the area close to the Singamata resort.

In November, armed men landed on nearby Pom Pom island off Semporna, killing a tourist from Taiwan and abducting his wife. She was later rescued by Philippine security forces.

Sabah made world headlines in 2000 when Abu Sayyaf, known for kidnapping and beheading hostages, abducted about 20 Malaysian and Western tourists on Sipadan island — not far from Singamata island. All but one of the hostages, a Filipino, were eventually released and rescued by Philippines security forces.