Abu Sayyaf setting sights on Sulu Sea

  • One Man's Meat
  • Saturday, 25 Jun 2016

Filepix of Abu Sayyaf with the captives

Esscom has done a good job securing Sabah’s east coast so the gunmen have had to move to the high seas for their kidnapping activities.

THE cage in Jolo is nearly empty.

On Wednesday morning, Abu Sayyaf-linked gunmen abducted seven Indonesian sailors on a tugboat in waters between the Philippines and Indonesia to fill it.

Sixteen days ago, I had a Facebook Messenger conversation with an intelligence operative in southern Philippines to discuss the release of four Sarawakian sailors from the Jolo cage.

The Filipino warned that there would be rampant kidnappings.

“Ramadan is the best time. There’s a lull,” he said. “They’ll target Malaysian fishing boats and tugboats that enter international waters to fish,” he said.

Fortunately, there were no Malaysians taken in the Wednesday abduction, and it did not happen in Malaysian waters.

“Kidnapping, again!” was the most popular response I got from WhatsApp and Twitter. The second most popular response was “Esscom (Eastern Sabah Security Command) is sleeping”.

The “zzzzzzz” response is unfair to Esscom. It also showed a shallow understanding of the business of kidnapping on the east coast of Sabah.

Many, when they read a story with words such as “kidnapping”, “Jolo” and “Abu Sayyaf”, assume that the abduction took place at the previous kidnapping locations such as island resorts, fish farms and a seafood restaurant.

The last three kidnappings in the Sulu Sea, that separates Sabah and Jolo in the southern Philippines, were on the fringes of our border – mostly in international waters.

On March 26, 10 Indonesian sailors were abducted off southern Philippines as their tugboat was pulling a barge.

On April 1, eight Filipino gunmen on a speedboat boarded a Malaysian-registered tugboat, MV Masfive 6, sailing in international waters off Sabah’s Pulau Ligitan.

They kidnapped the four Sarawakian sailors.

On April 15, four Indonesian sailors were kidnapped in the high seas off the east coast of Sabah.

The Philippine military, according to a Reuters report, has said that “the militants have been targeting foreign crew of slow-moving tugboats because they can no longer penetrate resorts and coastal towns in Malaysia’s eastern Sabah state due to increased security”.

This is true.

Esscom has done a good job securing the east coast of Sabah so that the Abu Sayyaf-linked gunmen could not or would not kidnap at their usual targets.

How did Esscom do it?

I could tell you but then I would have to kill you!

Here is information that is not classified.

Esscom has cleaned up squatter water villages that gave the KFR (kidnap for ransom and not KFC – kidnap for charity) group’s spotters a place to hide while they monitored potential targets.

Esscom has also beefed up security at potential targets, making the KFR group think twice before launching an attack.

We’ve also had black ops in Sabah and southern Philippines to eliminate the kidnapping threat.

The Sulu Sea is now the new target for Abu Sayyaf-linked gunmen. It is becoming the new Somalia.

Indonesian authorities, according to the Reuters report, have voiced concerns that piracy in the Sulu Sea area could reach levels previously seen in Somalia.

“Analysts say US$40bil (RM160bil) worth of cargo passes through those waters a year, including supertankers from the Indian Ocean that cannot use the crowded Malacca Strait,” it said.

According to Philippines Ministry of Foreign Affairs, more than 100,000 ships navigated Sulu Sea in 2015, transporting 18 million people and 60 million tonnes of merchandise.

On June 16, a reputable Filipino media organisation reported that four Malaysians were abducted off the coast of Sabah and allegedly brought to Sulu on Thursday morning.

Not again, I thought.

Fortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm.

Roughly, this is what happened.

An intel officer in Sabah saw an old news report that four Malaysians were kidnapped and thought it was fresh news. The intel officer sent that report to his Filipino counterpart.

The Filipino then wrote this:

“Report on new Malaysian kv (kidnap victim): 1520h Jun 16, the group of ASG led by Muktadil Bros Nickson and Brown (AA of Intel unit) w/ 8 other armed ASG (Abu Sayyaf group) with 4 Malaysians newly kidnapped from Sabah were allegedly at Sitangkai, Tawi Tawi and planning to proceed mainland Jolo at midnight June 15, 2016 utilising undisclosed speed boat and will possibly land at coastal area of Parang, Sulu.”

The intel report was picked up by Filipino journalists and they reported it as fact.

The other shallow understanding of the business of kidnapping is some think that the two groups of Indonesian hostages were released by the Abu Sayyaf because Jakarta had threatened to deploy its quick reaction strike force to rescue the hostages.

“The price for the 10 Indonesians was 50 million pesos (RM5mil) and for the four Indonesians 15 million pesos (RM1.5mil),” the Filipino intel operative told me.

People have asked me what had happened to the RM12mil the families of the four Sarawakian hostages had raised, whether ransom was paid and whether anyone pocketed a portion of the ransom money.

I’ve explained in length – a story spiked with conspiracy theories – to one or two or three friends.

For the rest, I gave a one-sentence explanation as I’m the type of person who gets bored of listening to my own story as I tell it.

Curious to know my answer?

The Abu Sayyaf is not in the business of kidnapping for free.

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Opinion , Philip Golingai , columnist


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