KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Gunmen from the Philippines briefly abducted 11 Malaysian fishermen this week near the internationally renowned scuba diving destination of Sipadan island, officials said Thursday, August 29.
The incident late Tuesday, August 27, highlighted continued security concerns along the coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island, which was wracked by a bloody incursion by Islamist guerrillas from the adjacent southern Philippines earlier this year.
The 11 armed men were believed to be bandits or smugglers from the Philippines, said Mohamad Mantek, an Immigration Department official who oversees police and army security in eastern Sabah.
The southern Philippines has for years been plagued by lawlessness and Islamic insurgency.
The Star newspaper said the gunmen, armed with shotguns and pistols, first kidnapped a Malaysian fisherman and ordered him to guide them to Mabul island.
“We do not know (the abductors’) intention,” Mohamad said.
Mabul has a number of resorts frequented by international visitors destined for nearby Sipadan and the area has seen previous kidnappings, including of foreign tourists.
On discovering there was a military outpost on Mabul, the gunmen turned back towards Philippine waters and abducted another group of Malaysian fishermen along the way, but soon released all of them.
Malaysia has ramped up security in the region in the wake of this year’s deadly incursion.
More than 200 heavily armed followers of a Manila-based self-proclaimed Philippine sultan landed in eastern Sabah in February, claiming it for their leader and reviving a centuries-old dispute over Sabah’s sovereignty.
After a nearly month-long standoff, Malaysian armed forces moved in to clear out the dug-in guerrillas. Dozens died in the drama.
In 2000, armed Philippine gunmen took 21 hostages at Sipadan, including 10 tourists from Europe and the Middle East. – Rappler.com