KOTA KINABALU: Two suspected Abu Sayyaf members were shot dead after they slipped into Sabah's Sandakan district, believed to be in preparation to kidnap estate owners in the area.
The duo, however, have yet to be identified following the 5am shootout with police on Friday (Aug 20) at the Bornhill Palm Oil Estate at Pulau Timbang.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hazani Ghazali said prior to the incident, security forces nabbed seven Abu Sayyaf members during a special operation between 2am and 4am on Wednesday (Aug 18) to track remaining militants at the area.
"The earlier operation saw security forces arrest 25 suspected undocumented migrants, comprising 11 Filipinos and 14 Indonesians," he said.
Comm Hazani said a further probe revealed that seven out of the 11 Filipinos were Abu Sayyaf members, while eight Indonesians were later released after their employers produced their work passes to the authorities.
They also found that there were other Abu Sayyaf members who managed to flee the first round of arrests, prompting a manhunt for them Thursday (Aug 19).
He said during the manhunt, their troops heard noises at an abandoned estate and gave a warning for those in hiding to surrender.
"However, gunshots were fired in response and that is why our men had to retaliate," Hazani said.
He said the shootout lasted for about three minutes. They later found two unidentified men had been shot dead.
"None of our men was injured," he said, adding that the suspects were in the area to plan for the abduction of two estate owners in Sandakan and Sukau areas.
Comm Hazani said they are believed to be seeking ransom to fund militant activities for eastern Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf members at Bud Bawis, Panamao.
He said the special operation was conducted as a follow-up from a previous operation at a mangrove area near Taman Sri Arjuna in Beaufort district on May 8, where eight suspected Abu Sayyaf members were nabbed.
Five others were shot dead in another crackdown at the same area on May 17.
He said police believe there are other escaped militants in the area and a manhunt for them is ongoing.
He also revealed that information about militants hiding in Sandakan and other parts of Sabah came from one of the suspects nabbed in the earlier raids in Beaufort.