KOTA KINABALU: It is a picturesque tropical paradise fringed by white sand and azure waters of the Celebes Sea.
The serenity of the Pom Pom Island Resort, a 45-minute boat ride from Semporna, Sabah, however, was shattered by gunshots early yesterday.
Unidentified armed men, who raided three of the five water villas at about 1am, killed Taiwanese tourist Hsu Li Min, 57, and abducted his wife Chang An Wei, 58.
A massive sea and air search has been launched to locate the woman and the gunmen.
Hsu and Chang had checked into the resort Tuesday and were scheduled to leave on Wednesday.
The resort, located a kilometre away from a General Operations Force (GOF) base, is about a 30-minute boat ride away from international waters bordering the Tawi Tawi islands off the Philippines.
Police have dismissed earlier suspicions that the gunmen could be members of armed groups from southern Philippines.
Sabah Police Commssioner Datuk Hamza Taib said the crimes could have been committed by criminals and not any known armed group, including the Abu Sayyaf.
He said based on previous cases, such crimes could be committed by ordinary criminals who could pass the victims to other groups, he said, adding that police had notified their counterparts in the Philippines and intensified searches within the islands in Semporna.
He said the gunmen gained entry into one of the six stilt chalets through a toilet window, after which they shot and killed the woman’s husband, probably during a scuffle.
“The resort’s guard, who heard the shots, ran to inform the General Operations Force (GOF) base about 800m away,” he said, adding that the chalet was still locked from the inside when police found the body with two gunshot wounds to the chest and four empty bullet casings.
The base is among those under the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), set up after the Feb 12 Sulu intrusion in Kg Tanduo in neighbouring Lahad Datu.
There were 48 guests at the resort and an unknown number of staff members when the gunmen struck.
At another press conference in Lahad Datu, Esscom director-general Datuk Mohammad Mentek said no ransom demands had been made so far.
He admitted that there were still some weaknesses in security in the area, including the lack of speed boats. He said Esscom was speeding up the acquisition of such boats.
Mentek said it was not easy to provide security cover for all areas in Semporna, which had over 40 islands in close proximity with islands belonging to the Philippines.
On Nov 14 last year, cousins Tung Wee Jie and Wee Wei were kidnapped from their family-run bird’s nest house in Lahad Datu.
Wee Jie, 26, was able to escape from his kidnappers by unshackling himself with a fork after being held captive for almost nine months on Jolo Island.
He was, however, separated from Wee Wei who fell sick.
Last month, the highly decomposed remains of Wee Wei, 34, were brought into Sandakan by unidentified villagers from southern Philippines.
The latest incident has sent shockwaves among Sabahans with many questioning the security in the state.
They also expect the murder and abduction to hit Sabah’s tourism industry hard.
Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman urged the people not to panic or be influenced by rumours.
Musa, who is also State Security Committee chairman, said Esscom was investigating the incident thoroughly.
He assured tourists that Sabah was still a safe place to visit and that the latest incident had occurred in an isolated area.
“Nevertheless, we will make sure the safety of tourists is guaranteed at all times,” he added.
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