It is learnt that the seven gunmen decided to let skipper Lautu Raali, 54, go after learning that he was held hostage on Jolo island in southwestern Philippines for 14 months by the Abu Sayyaf in 2016.
Three of Lautu’s crewmen were also released when they claimed to be Suluk.
Filipino security sources said the gunmen were working for Abu Sayyaf kidnapper Salip Mura when they hit two Sandakan-based fishing trawlers in waters off Sabah’s eastern Tambisan, which borders the Tawi-Tawi chain of islands in southern Philippines.
The sources said the kidnap-for-ransom group had been prowling the sea border areas in search of victims for months before they made a fresh hit at about noon on Monday with the first fishing boat in the waters off Tambisan.
It is learnt that the gunmen, who spoke in Suluk and Malay, decided among themselves not to take Lautu and his fellow “Suluk” crewmen because they felt that Salip might be incensed if they brought back a former hostage to Jolo.
After hauling Lautu and his men – locals Rosman Ahmadun, 43, and Rajiman Kuk Su Tang, 34, as well as a Filipino Suluk named Hashim, 38 – the kidnappers were ascertaining their identities when the crew members led them to believe that they were Suluk as they spoke the language.
When the second fishing boat appeared, four of the gunmen sped towards it and snatched all three Indonesians on board before returning to the first fishing boat, where they let off Lautu and the trio, according to the sources.
In Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Omar Mammah confirmed that the gunmen had only robbed the first fishing boat skippered by Lautu but took Indonesians Samiun Maniu, 27, Maharuydin Lunani, 48, and Muhammas Farhan, 27, hostage from the second boat across the border.
“We have yet to receive any ransom calls or communication from the gunmen,” he told a press conference here yesterday.
Both fishing trawlers, he added, were operating three nautical miles or 5.5km from the international border with the Philippines when the heavily armed men, who were dressed in military fatigues, raided the first boat and robbed those on board.
Police were still ascertaining why the group only kidnapped the three Indonesians and not the fishermen.
Omar said the kidnappers were using two pump boats and armed with rifles and pistols.
“We believe they are part of the kidnap-for-ransom group,” he said, adding that Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal had also ordered a review of the use of pump boats in the east coast after a ban on their use was lifted last year.
Salip’s kidnap-for-ransom group, linked to Abu Sayyaf commander Indang Susukan, was responsible for the June 18 kidnapping of 10 sea gypsies.
Nine of them were released immediately after they landed in Jolo.
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