SEMPORNA: The father was a notorious pirate before his death in the late 1990s.
Muktadir, a Filipino, terrorised the Sulu and Celebes seas separating Sabah and the southern Philippines.
His five sons, known as the “Muktadir brothers”, are part of a well-armed family of kidnappers.
Malaysian security forces are hunting them down as they believe the brothers are behind the last four cross-border kidnappings in the east coast of Sabah since November.
Sabah CID chief Sr Asst Comm Omar Mammah said the police believed the same group was involved in all four abductions over the past seven months. However, he did not disclose the identity of the kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) group.
According to intelligence officers interviewed by Sunday Star, the Muktadir brothers are one of the most active of the 14 known KFR groups in the southern Philippines.
Unlike the Muktadir brothers, the other KFR groups operate within the Philippine waters.
Malaysian security forces have identified three of the brothers as Nelson, Badung and Gadafi, while two others are reportedly going by the name Murphy Ambang Ladia @ Gulam and Ali, who is also known as Braun.
The brothers are believed to be based in a water village in Sitangkai island in the Tawi Tawi chain of islands that straddles Sabah’s east coast.
They used to live in Semporna, Sabah, when their father worked as a security guard in the district before he became a notorious pirate operating in Semporna waters from the southern Philippines.
Intelligence sources said Nelson was a former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) member.
He lived with his wife and child in Kampung Bangau Bangau in Semporna and worked as a carpenter and moneychanger while trafficking in syabu.
The brothers established crucial local links through relatives and friends who helped them whenever they carried out a kidnapping.
They were also familiar with the surrounding sea and the security forces’ movements.
Closely-linked with cross-border smugglers, the brothers own numerous speed boats and a cache of weapons that make them a feared clan in the southern Philippines.
The brothers, according to Filipino smuggler sources who regularly ply the route between Sabah and Tawi Tawi, bought their 40HP boats in Tawau and used them in the abductions.
The sources also believe that the Muktadir brothers smuggled weapons – M16 and Garand rifles, M203 grenade launcher and pistols – from the southern Philippines and hid them in uninhabi-ted islands in the east coast of Sabah.
They sneaked into Sabah as Filipino immigrants and blended in with the large Malaysian-Filipino community living in water villages.
They then worked with their local contacts, who monitored tourists in resorts – or other targets such as fish and seaweed farm operators – and security forces patrolling the surrounding waters.
“The kidnap-for-ransom group enter Sabah much earlier before striking at targets with help from local informers,” said SAC Omar.
They are well briefed by local informers on the possible targets and move in after receiving the signal that it was the right time to strike.
“The informers will speak to them in codes so that the authorities can’t understand their conversation through mobile phones,” said an intelligence officer.
Gadafi is believed to be responsible for the murder of Taiwanese tourist Li Min Hsu, 57, during the kidnapping of his wife Chang An Wei, 58, from Pom Pom resort last Nov 7.
Chang was released by Abu Sayyaf gunmen a month later in Jolo after ransom was paid.
The brothers are also believed to be involved in the kidnapping of Shanghai tourist Gao Huayun, 29, and Filipina resort worker Marcy Darawan, 29, from Singamata Reef Resort on April 1.
Both hostages, who were held in Jolo, were released on May 30.
With tightening security around resorts in Semporna, the same group headed northwards and grabbed Chinese national Yang Zan Lin, 34, working at Wonderful Terrace Fish Farm in Lahad Datu waters on May 6.
On Monday, the group abducted fish farm operator Chan Sai Chiun, a 32-year-old from Perak, and his Filipino worker Maslan, 20.
According to the sources, the brothers sold their hostages to different Abu Sayyaf groups in Philippines’ notorious Jolo island, about 300km from Semporna.
The amount demanded varies depending on the hostage, and ransoms can range from RM50,000 to RM1mil.
Sources add that the Abu Sayyaf are savvy in negotiating for high amounts of ransom while remaining well-protected from possible operations by Philippine security forces in their strongholds.
The brothers, according to the sources, do not have the skills to negotiate for ransom.
“They also don’t have the credibility. Who will believe them if they say, ‘if you don’t pay, we will kill the hostage?’” an intelligence source said.
The Muktadir brothers also do not have a stronghold to hold the hostages during negotiations.
“The hostage is sold to the Abu Sayyaf as they have several strongholds in Jolo island,” he said.
With intelligence reports indicating that the Muktadir brothers have slipped into the east coast of Sabah, the Malaysian security forces are on high alert.
‘Being stuck between Sabah and Sulu bad for us’