Sabah police on high alert

KOTA KINABALU: Security forces are on high alert following a shootout with an Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf group that saw five members of the cell gunned down by Malaysian police.

The red alert was issued as police fear the killings at a mangrove swamp squatter colony in southwestern Beaufort district on Monday morning could spark retaliation from remnant terrorists or sympathisers.

Those killed were notorious Abu Sayyaf subcommander Mabar Binda and foot soldiers Jurakhdam Binda, Alsimar Sukarno and Abhirham Samsula @ Samsed.

A fifth suspect has yet to be identified and is believed to have acted as a transporter and food provider.

The shootout came barely a week after Mabar escaped a police swoop, which saw the arrests of eight members of the cell including his brother Muayyar and another subcommander, Sansibar Besion.

The Binda brothers and Sansibar are wanted by Filipino authorities for a spate of murders and kidnappings, and are described as “ruthless’’.

They have been involved in clashes with the Philippines military over the past decade that saw them beheading a Filipino marine soldier, as well as killing a kidnapped Dutch national in May 2019.

It is believed that the group began to slip into Sabah late last year by sending their families here first as the Philippines military pursued them at their home base of Jolo.

The Abu Sayyaf gunmen were believed to have entered Sabah earlier this year and joined their families in Beaufort.

State police commissioner Datuk Hazani Ghazali said they believed the group and those arrested were not linked to any kidnap for ransom crimes in Sabah.

Gunned down: Beaufort OCPD DSP Yusoff Zaki Yaacob looking at photos of the shot suspects and seized items.Gunned down: Beaufort OCPD DSP Yusoff Zaki Yaacob looking at photos of the shot suspects and seized items.

“We are still investigating any possible criminal involvements in Sabah and will forward the investigation papers to the Attorney General for further action.

“They could also be sent back as illegal immigrants, ’’ he said.

On the shooting incident, Comm Hazani said the 11.27am shootout happened when the Abu Sayyaf gunmen started to fire at the police team who moved into their hideout at the swamp near Taman Sri Arjuna, about 100km from the state capital.

“Our men had to return fire due to safety reasons, ” he said, adding that two Colt.45 pistols and three machetes were among the weapons seized.

In an earlier operation last week, 37 people including eight Abu Sayyaf members were nabbed in the same area.

Comm Hazani said the squatter colony set up by these suspects would be demolished after the necessary investigations were completed.

Asked how these terrorists had managed to slip into Sabah and choose Beaufort as their refuge ground, he said police were still investigating but believed they had entered Sabah waters using pump boats with the help of sources and sympathisers.

State police are working with district policemen and security officials to check if there are any other such groups in Sabah, he added.

Comm Hazani warned the public, especially sympathisers, to refrain from giving help to any suspicious illegal immigrants or suspected Abu Sayyaf members.

“Alert the police immediately if there are any suspicious people in the area, ” he said.

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