KOTA KINABALU: The Abu Sayyaf militant group, displaced after the death of its commander Al Habsi Misaya, is expected to regroup under a different face or employ different methods, warns a security expert.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Strategic Security Research Centre head Dr Zaini Othman cautioned that it was only a matter of time before the militants regroup under a different face or change their modus operandi to carry out acts of terror, including kidnappings.
“I guess they will regroup among themselves and make tactical changes in the face of security collaboration between Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia,” Dr Zaini said, adding that Sabah’s east coast was likely to see only a “technical relief” from the cross-border threats.
“We should not get carried away with the recent successes as the behaviour of global criminal actors is very much fluid and dynamic in nature.
“The same nature goes for the Abu Sayyaf and kidnap-for-ransom groups in the Sulu Sea area,” he said.
Al Habsi, who had accumulated huge wealth through cross-border kidnappings, had been the key target of security forces on both sides of the border as he was suspected to be the main person funding cross-border kidnap groups.
He was also one of Eastern Sabah Security Command’s (Esscom) most wanted Abu Sayyaf leaders. Al Habsi was a menace to several hostage negotiations when he demanded more than what was agreed on.
Intelligence officials see Al Habsi’s death in Jolo on Friday as the beginning of the final blow on the Abu Sayyaf group that has terrorised people on both sides of the Sulu Sea since the first major kidnapping of 21 people from Sipadan in April 2000.
Al Habsi, described as a hot-tempered drug addict responsible for the beheading of Sarawakian Bernard Then on Nov 17, 2015, was killed with another Abu Sayyaf member while fleeing on a motorcycle.
Intelligence sources said that several other Abu Sayyaf leaders, including the Sawadjaan brothers, sub-commander Sarip Muna and sub-commander Halipa (a former Sandakan-based smuggler turned kidnapper), were still at large.
“It was only a matter of time that the group is eliminated,” an intelligence source told The Star on Friday.
They believe that only 25% of the group’s core members numbering between 150 and 200 men are left.
In Kluang, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters that Malaysia would further tighten border security in the eastern Sabah waters.
He said the security measures were vital to ensure the remaining militant members would not enter the country.
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