Malaysian Police Kill Three Suspected Filipino Gunmen in Sabah Area Waters

Desmond Davidson
Kuching, Malaysia
161209-MY-sabah-620.jpg Four Indonesian sailors who were kidnapped by suspected Islamic militants from the southern Philippines in waters off Sabah, Malaysia, arrive at Halim Perdanakusuma air base in Jakarta after their release, May 13, 2016.

In the first violent encounter between Malaysian security personnel and suspected cross-border kidnappers from the southern Philippines, police killed three gunmen and captured two others during a shootout off eastern Malaysia’s Sabah state, officials said Friday.

The incident occurred late Thursday after seven suspected Filipino gunmen in a boat attacked three vessels in the area around Semporna, a town on Sabah’s east coast close to the southern Philippines.

Kidnappings of sailors by suspected Abu Sayyaf Group militants this year have occurred in the seas that separate the Philippines from Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo.

Security forces were searching Friday for the two remaining suspects and the skipper of one of the ships who was taken hostage, according to a police incident report obtained by BenarNews and local media accounts of a Friday press conference by Sabah Police Commissioner Abdul Rashid Harun.

The captain of one of the other trawlers was rescued, but a policeman was shot in the foot during the gun battle, authorities said.

The shootout erupted as the gunmen in a speedboat approached a Tiger Platoon vessel patrolling local waters, Abdul Rashid told reporters, adding the suspects mistook it for another trawler they planned to hijack. The Tiger Platoon is a unit with the Malaysian police’s elite General Operations Force.

The platoon commander noticed that the men on the speedboat were heavily armed, he said.

“The head then shouted ‘police’ and the abductors started to open fire. The security forces personnel returned fire in defense and a shootout ensued for one minute,” Abdul Rashid said, noting that the gunmen’s boat began to sink afterward.

When the shooting died down, the police found the bodies of three gunmen floating in the water. Two other gunmen and the skipper were found alive.

Second hostage missing

The spree of hijackings began around 9 p.m. Thursday when the seven suspects boarded a trawler off the coastal town of Lahad Datu, 68 km (42.2 miles) north of Semporna. They robbed the crew of their mobile phones and food supplies before making off with the captain, a Filipino resident of Sabah in his 30s, Abdul Rashid said.

“The abductors destroyed the telecommunications equipment on board the fishing vessel and proceeded toward Semporna waters,” the commissioner said.

The gunmen then sailed south to waters off Semporna, where they boarded a second trawler near Gaya Island.

“Then the gunmen headed to the trawler’s light boat, anchored not too far away, and snatched the second hostage,” he said. The skipper who was abducted in this incident was missing after the shootout, according to the Manila Times.

31 Malaysians, Indonesians abducted this year

In 2016, the seas off the northern part of Borneo island have been rife with hijackings in which suspected Abu Sayyaf militant have kidnapped Malaysian and Indonesian sailors and held them hostage in the southern Philippines.

To date this year, at least 10 Malaysians and 21 Indonesians were taken hostage at sea. Five Malaysians and six Indonesians continue to be held by their captors while others were released earlier in the year.

For months officials from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have talked about launching joint patrols to safeguard the Sulu and Celebes seas from more acts of piracy and abductions, but have yet to implement coordinated operations.

On Friday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak congratulated the police for foiling one of the attempted kidnappings, saying in a blog on his website that Malaysian security forces would work with their Philippine counterparts to identify the gunmen and abducted fisherman.

“Praise should be given to the security personnel on their actions as it is not easy to watch the long stretch of coastline,” he said.

In Zamboanga in the southern Philippines, Philippine military spokesman Maj. Felimon Tan Jr. told local media that it was trying to verify the incident and confirm whether the three dead men were Filipinos.


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