Updated at 1:25 p.m. ET on 2020-01-18
Authorities on Saturday said they suspect a Southern Philippine kidnap-for-ransom group kidnapped five Indonesian fishermen from Malaysian waters in eastern Sabah earlier this week.
Malaysian police reported the abduction occurred around 8 p.m. Jan. 16 when six masked gunmen boarded a boat containing eight men near Tambisan island and headed toward Philippine waters. Philippine authorities could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.
The kidnappers took the captain identified as Arsyad Dahlan, 41, and four others, Arizal Kastamiran, 29, La Baa, 32, Riswanto Hayano, 27, and Edi Lawalopo, 53, boarding their own boat and releasing three of the fishermen who returned to Sabah the next day. The three were identified as Abdul Latif, 37, Daeng Akbal, 20, and Pian Janiru, 36.
Hazani Ghazali, chief of the Eastern Sabah Security Command, confirmed the incident.
“We suspect that this was done by a kidnap-for-ransom group,” he told BenarNews when asked if the kidnapping was carried out by Abu Sayyaf Group or a different group operating from Philippines islands bordering Malaysia.
Hazani confirmed reports that the fishing boat was detected at 9:10 p.m. Friday as it returned to Malaysian waters and the three fishermen were detained by marine police to be questioned about the kidnapping.
Authorities have not determined the group responsible for this latest kidnapping, the first in 2020.
Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for a spate of kidnappings in the region in recent years where Malaysian and Indonesian sailors and fishermen have been taken hostage. Suspects in previous kidnappings would demand ransom for their release.
In September, three Indonesian fishermen were abducted from their boat off Sabah’s east coast near the border with the Philippines. On Wednesday, Philippine officials announced security forces rescued the third Indonesian fisherman weeks after authorities said he was recaptured by Abu Sayyaf captors while his two compatriots were rescued in southern Sulu province.
Earlier in the same month, Malaysian police said security forces gunned down two suspected Abu Sayyaf members during a shootout at sea off the Sabah state.
Founded in the early 1990s, Abu Sayyaf is notorious for kidnappings, bombings and beheadings carried out in the southern Philippines over the past two decades. The group, based in and around Jolo and Basilan islands in the southwestern part of the Philippines, has been blacklisted by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization.
Sabah has been under a dusk-to-dawn sea curfew during the past few months as authorities took steps to curtail movements of armed groups involved in kidnap-for-ransom activities.
Malaysia signed an agreement with the Philippines and Indonesia in 2017 to launch trilateral patrols in the region aimed at reducing the risk of kidnapping and other terrorist acts.