Malaysia: Philippine Tip Leads to Capture of 8 Abu Sayyaf Suspects

Ken Chang
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Malaysia: Philippine Tip Leads to Capture of 8 Abu Sayyaf Suspects Malaysian authorities released photos of eight suspected Abu Sayyaf group members caught in Sabah, May 10, 2021.
Courtesy of Malaysia’s Eastern Sabah Security Command and the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Comm

Security forces in Sabah captured eight suspected Abu Sayyaf militants, as well as eight women and 21 children, found hiding in a swamp area over the weekend, after Philippine authorities tipped them off that the men were in Malaysia, officials said Monday.

Sabah Police Commissioner Hazani Ghazali said the raid occurred early Saturday.

“Philippine authorities had confirmed that the eight had snuck into Sabah to escape arrest following operations against ASG members,” Hazani told reporters, referring to the Abu Sayyaf Group.

“All 37 comprising the eight men with 29 others – eight women and the remainder children – were caught hiding in a swamp area in the Beaufort district of Sabah,” he told BenarNews. “Authorities are still checking if the 29 have family ties to the eight suspects.”

Authorities in both countries identified the two suspected sub-leaders as Sansibar Bensio and Mabar Binda.

“Two of them, Sansibar Bensio and Mabar Binda, were wanted by Philippine authorities for involvement in battles with the authorities and kidnapping activities of foreigners,” Hazani said.

Philippine Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr. said military units from the Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS) had alerted their Malaysian counterparts in the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM), leading to the Saturday raid.

“Based on the report from the ground, the ESSCOM responded to the information provided by the Joint Task Force Sulu and launched a police special operation in Jalan Taman Sri Arjuna, Beaufort, Sabah, around 3 o’clock in the morning, May 8, 2021,” said Vinluan, commander of the Western Mindanao Command.

Escape to Sabah


Vinluan said the eight had escaped to avoid getting caught by Philippine authorities in Sulu, which is about 323 km (200 miles) east of Sandakan, a city in Sabah.

“They were trying to avoid relentless operations by the military in Sulu,” Vinluan told BenarNews, adding they likely would have kidnapped people if the opportunity arose.

“They then moved to Sabah and set up an ASG cell there to scout for new victims and launch other terror activities,” Vinluan said.

Bensio and Binda allegedly were involved in the kidnapping of Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra and Dutch national Ewold Horn along with Indonesian nationals in the southern Philippines, according to the military. 

Horn was killed as he tried to escape amid a gun battle between troops and his captors in 2019, seven years after he was kidnapped. Vinciguerra was able to escape after being held for two years.

Military authorities also linked Bensio and Binda to kidnappings for ransom of 10 Filipinos who were held in the jungle of Sulu at different times but later freed. 

Philippine Col. Hernanie Songano, commander of the 4th Marine Brigade in the south, said intelligence information indicated the group was aiming to use Sabah as a springboard to “facilitate foreign terrorist groups in Southeast Asia to conduct terror activities in the Philippines.”

In 2017, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesian launched trilateral patrols aimed at preventing acts of piracy and kidnappings at sea along their common maritime boundaries.

Foreign terrorist groups

Vinluan, meanwhile, said troops and police were looking for “two more Indonesians and one Egyptian foreign militant in Sulu.”

The Egyptian is the younger brother of the militant identified as Yusop, who was killed along with two Abu Sayyaf militants in April, Vinluan said.

Their mother, Reda Mohammad Mahmud, an Egyptian national (alias Siti Aiza), blew herself up at a military camp in 2019. Because her explosives were set off prematurely, no one else was injured or killed.

Sulu, a remote island province in the far-southern Philippines, has been home to terrorist atrocities in recent years.

Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for a twin suicide bombing at a Catholic cathedral in Jolo, the capital of Sulu province, where 23 people were killed, including an Indonesian couple who blew themselves up. An August 2020 bombing in Jolo killed 14 people.

BenarNews staff in Zamboanga, Philippines, contributed to this report.


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