SEMPORNA: Mabul island has been touted as the safest area in the east coast of Sabah to holiday. Now, the myth has been shattered.
“Don’t worry about visiting Mabul,” a top Sabah Tourism official had said earlier, adding that “nobody will dare kidnap tourists as Mabul has the largest concentration of security forces in all the islands in Semporna”.
He was certain that there would be no kidnapping in the island that became the favoured spot after the Sipadan kidnapping in 2000.
After 21 people – including nine Sabahans, 10 foreign tourists and two Filipino foreign workers – were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf in the diving haven of Pulau Sipadan, authorities ordered resorts in that island to be closed.
Tourists wanting to dive in Sipadan had to stay in Mabul or other nearby islands and reefs.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, however, felt his security forces had things under control.
“Not only Mabul, I think, all islands in Semporna are generally safe except for this incident.
“You see, they targeted security forces and not tourists,” said Khalid in a hotel in Semporna town.
However, when asked about the version of event where it was said that the gunmen walked 150m from shore and stumbled upon the two policemen who were eating at a restaurant in the resort, Khalid replied: “The presence of our security forces foiled an attempt to get tourists and they were not able to do what they wanted to do (which is to kidnap tourist).”
To another question why the security forces were not able to detect the gunmen arriving in the island, Khalid said there were many reasons and “we are looking into them”.
A WhatsApp message by a senior army officer in Esscom to ground patrol is also raising questions whether it was negligence that saw the policemen being caught completely off guard.
The message purportedly from Mejar-Jen Datuk Masrani Paiman warned his men there would be no compromise if personnel were found to be negligent or indisciplined.
It is believed that the message also informed the ground personnel that CCTV footage had clearly shown that weapons were left unattended in a boat, and that security personnel were not in uniform when the attack took place.
Esscom commander Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun, however, denied that the message was a warning, saying it was more of a reminder to all security forces.
He explained that the two policemen were taking their break as it was their team’s turn to rest.
Rashid added that the motive appeared to be revenge but some Semporna folks wondered if it was actually another kidnap attempt on full moon night.
Their main concern now is that kidnappings are becoming a monthly event and they fear that it may become a regular affair just like in the southern Philippines.