KOTA KINABALU: Members of the notorious Abu Sayyaf group from the Philippines have been living under the radar for the past one year in Sabah after fleeing from security forces in their country.
This came to light when eight of these fugitives, their wives and 21 children, were arrested at a mangrove swamp squatter area near Taman Seri Arjuna in Beaufort district at about 3am on Saturday, said state Police Commissioner Datuk Hazani Ghazali.
The 21 children are found to be familiar with the “number one” finger sign, which is a symbol of loyalty to a terrorist movement.
Two of the fugitives are on the Philippine forces’ wanted list. They are Sansibar Besion, who is in his 40s, and Muayyar Binda, who is in his 30s.
All the eight fugitives were caught following information provided by the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), said Hazani.
These Abu Sayyaf members, suspected to have links with the Islamic State group, are believed to have fled to Sabah following an aggressive offensive against terrorists and criminals in southern Philippines.
Hazani said one of the suspects lost his father during the military operation and saw many of his other family members arrested in the Philippines.
“We believe they have been here for over a year based on the history of the Philippine military offensive, ” he said.
It is unclear if there are other cells of this group in other parts of Sabah but a probe is underway.
“Police are investigating how they managed to slip into Sabah, their contacts and their intention here. Some of those nabbed have copies of the temporary Malaysian identification receipts, which we suspect to be fake, ” Hazani said.
Asked about the situation during the raid, he said it went without any bloodshed as the suspects surrendered and cooperated when the policemen arrived.
“All suspects will be remanded until May 12, ” Hazani said, adding those found assisting and harbouring these suspects would also be arrested.
Asked why these suspects, as per several previous similar arrests, chose to hide in the west coast instead of east coast, he said it could be because there was a strong presence of Esscom in the east coast.
“But whichever the case, they have entered Sabah illegally from the east coast before coming to the west coast area of Beaufort. This is the focus of our probe, ” he said.
“Many criminals choose to hide in Sabah due to the cultural and geographical similarities, while assimilating with the locals is not a difficult task for them.”