KOTA KINABALU: Malaysian and Philippine intelligence agencies do not expect the death of kidnap mastermind Apo Kahumbo to have much impact on cross-border kidnappings in the east coast of Sabah.
According to them, the key kidnap-for-ransom groups are lying low and waiting for an appropriate time to strike again.
"The abduction threat in Semporna, Kunak and Lahad Datu is still there as the main group in southern Philippines has yet to be eliminated," a Malaysian intelligence source said.
"The Muktadil brothers are still alive," he added, referring to the family that security forces believe is behind most of the kidnappings in Sabah's east coast.
On Aug 23, police named them as the main suspects in a series of cross border kidnappings and murders in the area.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abd Rahman identified two of the six brothers as Nilson Muktadil, in his 30s, and Badong, in his 40s.
He said that authorities are trying to identify a third person, believed to be their accomplice.
Badong, the leader of the Muktadil brothers, is said to be a protégé of Mobin Sahibudin Hailil, also known as Apo Kahumbo.
In Friday, Kahumbo was shot dead by Philippine security forces within 72 hours of his arrest in what was suspected to be a "black operation" to prevent his eventual release.
The 44-year-old was killed when he purportedly tried to escape while being escorted under heavy guard after a court appearance in Bongao, the administrative capital of Tawi-Tawi islands in southern Philippines.
Tawi-Tawi police chief Col Joey Salido said investigations would be carried out on the shooting of Kahumbo, who was arrested for illegally possessing a .45 Colt handgun loaded with six bullets and an MK2 grenade at a checkpoint at Sanga-Sanga village on Tuesday.
Intelligence sources believe the Kahumbo gang, the Muktadil brothers and a group known as Anjang-Anjang were supporting each other to carry out cross-border kidnappings.
They said Kahumbo's role was to transport hostages to Jolo island and hand them over to the Abu Sayyaf group.
A Philippine intelligence source said the death of the 44-year-old Kahumbo might "reduce to a certain extent" the kidnapping threat from southern Philippines.
"But it is almost impossible to reduce the threat to zero. There are other kidnap-for-ransom groups which are more aggressive than Kahumbo," he added.
Intelligence sources fear copycat groups could emerge due to the lucrative ransoms received for hostages snatched from Sabah.
Hostages taken from Sabah are considered to be of higher value than Filipinos kidnapped in southern Philippines, they said.
The sources said the death of one or two leaders of the kidnap groups would not jeopardise the safety of the hostages held by Abu Sayyaf terrorists, who expect to collect a high ransom for them.
Two Malaysians – Konstable Zakiah Aleip, 26, who was abducted in Pulau Mabul on July 12, and Chan Sai Chuin, 32, from a fish farm at Kampung Sapang in Kunak on June 16.
They are now being held in Jolo island by Abu Sayyaf sub-commander Alhabsi Misaya.