Esscom identifies 3 new kidnap-for-ransom groups
KOTA KINABALU: The Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) has identified three new kidnap-for-ransom groups, its chief DCP Hazani Ghazali says.
Speaking during a gathering with the media organised by Esscom in Sandakan last night, Hazani said the groups were also involved in robbery.
But he declined to give further details to maintain the integrity of the authorities’ investigations and operations.
The Sulu and Celebes Seas off Sabah’s east coast used to be a hotspot for kidnappings and sea-jackings but thanks to efforts by Esscom, no incidents were recorded last year.
Esscom has also tightened security to prevent possible trans border movement of militants during the five-month Marawi war in southern Philippines between government troops and pro-Islamic State groups.
The heightened security resulted in Esscom shooting dead an Abu Sayyaf group member during a chase in the waters off Silam in December last year.
The suspect, identified as Abu Paliyak, belonged to an Abu Sayyaf group responsible for a spate of kidnappings-for-ransom and robberies in the east coast of Sabah.
More recently, Esscom and Tawau police killed three Filipinos believed to be linked to terrorism at an oil palm estate in Kalabakan, also in Sabah’s east coast.
The team seized a Colt M4 assault rifle, a revolver and a samurai sword from the unidentified suspects during the Feb 23 chase and shootout.
The authorities were in the process of identifying them through Interpol and security agencies of the Philippines and Indonesia.
However, the next day, a national newspaper published a report identifying one of the slain suspects, citing a Philippine intelligence source.
Later, Esscom issued a statement criticising the report which it said had jeopardised its investigation.
In the statement, Hazani urged the media to verify with the authorities any information received before publishing it to safeguard their investigation and operational integrity.
During the dialogue with the media last night, Hazani said the authorities had to continue their investigation after the shootout with the three suspects.
“You have to understand that the matter did not end there. We had to look for the accomplices of the three slain suspects but that news report upended our investigation.
“We hope the media will give their cooperation by verifying their information with us before reporting it.”
Hazani also revealed a planned road checkpoint to stem the crossing of criminal elements from the east coast of the state to the west, to be set up at the end of the month.
“We will start the road checkpoint in Kalabakan and then have another one in Telupid,” he said.
“We are also in talks with our counterparts from the neighbouring nations to determine the location for our sea checkpoint.
“All vessels entering Sabah’s east coast waters will have to go through inspection at the sea checkpoint.”
The 1,700km coastline in Sabah‘s east coast is a specially designated security area called the Eastern Sabah Security Zone or Esszone.
Esszone and Esscom were established in 2013 following an incursion in Lahad Datu by some 200 Sulu militants who wanted to stake their territorial claim on Sabah.
Ten Malaysian security personnel and 68 militants were killed in the five-week standoff.