KOTA KINABALU: All entry points into Sabah are under close watch following Saturdays prison breakout by Abu Sayyaf gunmen three days after one of their top leaders was shot dead in southern Philippines.
Police and the Armed Forces have stepped up security along the east coast of Sabah in case the Abu Sayyaf suspects flee across the Sulu Sea.
We are following the situation in southern Philippines closely. We remain vigilant and are monitoring people crossing our borders, Army chief Jen Datuk Mohd Azumi Mohamed told The Star.
Jen Azumi said all entry points used by immigrants were under surveillance and troops are monitoring the situation.
According to reports from Zamboanga City, 53 Abu Sayyaf suspects broke out of prison on Basilan Island on Saturday and eight were killed while nine were recaptured.
It takes about eight hours to travel from Basilan Island to Sabah in a high-powered speedboat.
The Philippines military assisted by US Special Forces advisers and intelligence personnel were hunting for the prisoners.
Unconfirmed reports said that an American had either been killed or wounded in fights with the Abu Sayyaf.
Basilan governor Wahab Akba said among the Abu Sayaff leaders who escaped were Abu Black, Abu Burhan and Abdulaziz Naya who had been involved in numerous abductions over the years.
The jailbreak occurred amid tight security after the killing of senior Abu Sayyaf leader Hamsiraji Sali, his brother and four other members of the group on Thursday.
Sali is among the Abu Sayyaf leaders being hunted by the US government for the kidnapping and murder of two Americans at Dos Palmas resort in Palawan in 2001.
Washington and Manila, which linked the Abu Sayyaf group to Osama bin Ladens al-Qaeda terrorist network, had put a bounty of US$1mil (RM3.8mil) on the head of Sali.
The jailbreak could be a retaliation against Salis death, Basilan police commander Senior Inspector William Gadayan was quoting as saying.
Gadayan said the escapees fled with four shotguns and an M-203 grenade launcher.
Provincial government spokesman Christopher Puno said a visitor who smuggled a pistol into the prison was the wife of a captain in Sumisip town on the island but they had yet to identify the woman.
Philippines army commanders said if the escaped Abu Sayyaf prisoners reached the coastal areas of Basilan Island and seized a boat, it would be difficult to locate them as they could hide in any of the islands in the Sulu Sea.
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