KOTA KINABALU: The gunmen killed in a shootout at a Tawau plantation on Tuesday (Feb 27) are suspected to be linked to a cross-border terrorist network that might be planning an attack on Sabah.
Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) commander Datuk Hazani Ghazali said that they could be linked to 10 people arrested recently by the Bukit Aman anti-terrorism unit for planning to carry out attacks in the state.
Hazani said that while police have yet to positively identify the three gunmen, the weapons recovered - including a Colt M4 rifle and a revolver - did not look like those used by an armed robbery group.
“We are taking their photos and finger prints to see if this can help us identify the three,” he said, adding that they would also be requesting for assistance from Interpol.
Speaking to reporters at the Esscom headquarters in Tawau on Wednesday (Feb 28), he added; “From the arrests, what we know is that these terror groups are already in Sabah."
He said Tawau district police chief Asst Comm Fadil Marcus had also noted the trio seemed to operate in a tactical manner before they were shot dead.
“We are still trying to study their motives and which group they belonged to. They could be part of the Islamic State or other organised groups," said Hazani.
However, he did not want to speculate if they were Abu Sayyaf militants who participated in the failed Marawi siege last October.
Hazani said they were working with their counterparts in the Philippines to help identify the three, who were found with no documents.
He added that while it was hard to say if the trio were Malaysians or Filipinos, the three were not on Esscom's most-wanted list.
Together with the rifle, they found three bullets including one spent in a magazine, a .38 revolver with six bullets, a bag containing nine bullets, two packets of drugs and also a Perodua Kancil car stolen from Kota Kinabalu among others.
The trio had opened fire at a pursuing police party inside a plantation about a kilometre from the main Kalabakan-Keningau road in the four-minute shootout that ended with the three killed at around 3.20pm on Tuesday.
Hazani said that it was clear that criminal elements were using the Kalabakan-Keningau road to move undetected towards the interior of Sabah that links to the west coast.
He said they plan to set up roadblocks along the road as well as in the Telupid district that links to the west coast of Sabah to check the movement of these militants or other criminal elements.