Abu Sayyaf leaders nabbed in Sabah swampland were ruthless, says Manila

KOTA KINABALU: The two Abu Sayyaf sub-leaders captured while hiding out in the swamp area of Sabah's south-western Beaufort district have been described as ruthless by the Philippines military.

The duo – Sansibar Bensio and Mabar Binda – have been involved in clashes with the Philippines military over the past decade that saw them beheading a marine as well as killing a kidnapped Dutch national.

Rewards have been offered by Manila leading to the capture of both men, believed to be key fighters of the notorious Abu Sayyaf group led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan based in the southern Philippines islands of Jolo.

On May 8, Sabah police acting on information from the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) raided swamp areas in Beaufort and arrested eight suspected Abu Sayyaf members as well their wives and children who have been hiding out for over a year.

They have been remanded for questioning and are being held under the Immigration Act for illegal entry.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hazani Ghazali said on Wednesday (May 12) investigations were still in progress and police were trying to establish whether or not any of them were involved directly with Sabah kidnapping cases over the years.

"Once we complete our investigations, we will hand it over the Attorney General's Chambers do decide on the next course action," he said when asked if police would be repatriating the prisoners to the Philippines as they were wanted by Manila.

"They are all illegally in Sabah... they could be deported under the Immigration Act," he said.

According to reports from Manila, both Sansibar Bensio and Mabar Binda were involved in numerous domestic kidnappings, as well as the abduction of Swiss citizen Lorenzo Vinciguerra and Dutch national Ewold Horn in southern Tawi Tawi island chain in 2012.

Vinciguerra managed to fight his way to freedom in December 2014 while Horn was killed trying to escape during a military assault in May 2019.

Bensio and Binda are believed to have sent their family members to Sabah last year while slipping into the country themselves earlier this year.

Philippines marine brigade commander Colonel Hernanie Songano did not rule out the possibility that the group planned to make Sabah a new staging point for their kidnapping activities.

"They know that it will be very difficult for them to launch atrocities in Sulu due to the persistent military operations in the area, ” he said, referring to recent arrests and eliminations of henchmen to key Abu Sayyaf leader Sawadjan.

Songano said the Abu Sayyaf militants have been involved in arranging the travel of foreign militants to the southern Philippines over the years.

The Philippines considers Abu Sayyaf a terrorist organisation linked to Islamic State (IS) and responsible for bombings, kidnapping for ransom, and beheadings. The group is said to have been weakened after incessant fighting with the military and attrition.

In March, key Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom leader Majan Sahidjuan @Apo Mike was killed in Tawi Tawi after the military rescued four Indonesian hostages taken from Sabah waters over a year ago.

Apo was fleeing with the hostages from military operations in Jolo.

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