PETALING JAYA: Malaysia has been listed as a country with a risk of kidnapping and hostage-taking by the United States government.
The country is one of the 35 countries marked with the new "K" indicator by the US State Department.
"On April 9, the State Department introduced a new risk indicator to our public Travel Advisories in order to communicate more clearly to U.S. citizens the risks of kidnapping and hostage-taking by criminal and terrorist actors around the world.
"The new 'K' indicator is part of our ongoing commitment to provide clear and comprehensive travel safety information to US citizens so they can make informed travel decisions," it said in a statement.
Among the 34 countries with similarly updated travel advisories include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine (in Russian-controlled eastern Ukraine), and Yemen.
"The Department issues Travel Advisories for every country around the world, offering standardised levels of advice based on established risk indicators such as crime, terrorism, civil unrest, natural disasters, health, and other potential risks," it added.
The Department added that the Bureau of Consular Affairs works closely with the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and the entire US interagency to serve and protect Americans overseas and to prevent and resolve cases of kidnapping and hostage-taking.
"We will continue to update our public information as part of our ongoing commitment to serve US citizens as they travel abroad," it said.
According to the Travel Advisories in its website, countries are labelled between Level 1 for 'exercise' normal precaution and Level 4 for 'Do not travel'.
On the website, Malaysia's travel advisory is listed as 'Level 1'. However, with the latest Risk Indicator update, the Department categorised the eastern area of Sabah as Level 2 (exercise increased caution).
The Advisory reads, "There is a threat of kidnappings-for-ransom from both terrorist and criminal groups. These groups may attack with little to no warning, targeting coastal resorts, island resorts, and boats ferrying tourists to resort islands.
"The US government has limited ability to provide emergency services to US citizens in eastern Sabah as US government employees must obtain special authorisation to travel to parts of eastern Sabah."
In recent years, there were several kidnapping cases which took place in the state, with the latest being the kidnapping of a Malaysian and two Indonesian fishermen who were snatched from the Pegasus Reef in the Kinabatangan area by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Dec 5 last year.
With reports of Abu Sayyaf gunmen hunting for 'value kidnap' targets in the state, the security forces in eastern Sabah are on full alert to prevent untoward incidents.