Sabah kidnapping: Gunmen heading for southern Philippines

A picture of the fish farm where Chan and a Filipino worker were abducted by gunmen during a press conference at the Kepayan Police Headquarters in Kota Kinabalu. -- PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
A picture of the fish farm where Chan and a Filipino worker were abducted by gunmen during a press conference at the Kepayan Police Headquarters in Kota Kinabalu. -- PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

LAHAD DATU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian police hunting for Filipino gunmen who kidnapped two men from a Sabah town say the abductors were last seen headed towards the Alice Reef route into southern Philippines.

In the third instance of kidnapping in three months in Sabah, fish farm operator Chan Sai Chiun, a 32-year-old Malaysian, and his 20-year-old Filipino worker Maslan were taken in a speedboat from their farm in Kunak, about 60km from Lahad Datu. The midnight raid on Monday is believed to have been carried out by at least four gunmen.

Mr Maslan reportedly escaped from the gunmen's clutches after he jumped off the boat and swam ashore to lodge a report.

Police were continuing their hunt on Tuesday for the gunmen who have apparently crossed over to Tawi Tawi province in the southern Philippines with their hostage.

Recounting the incident, Sabah CID chief Omar Mammah said the kidnappers, who were apparently wielding "long guns" - possibly M16 rifles - rowed into the fish farm jetty, some 500m from the Kg Sapang coast.

"Chan and his wife came out of their room on hearing noises outside," he said.

"The gunmen immediately confronted Chan and ordered him into their boat while his wife managed to escape into a room.

"We are not sure when they picked up Maslan as the wife did not see him," he said, adding that the worker had been staying close to the couple's room at the farm, which Mr Chan and his two partners began operating three months ago.

Mr Omar said the gunmen, believed to belong to a Tawi Tawi-based kidnap-for-ransom group, had rowed the 5m-long, 40hp boat to slip quietly into the farm.

"The whole raid lasted less than five minutes - and no shots were fired," he said, adding that, besides Mr Maslan, the farm had two other workers.

All security forces under the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) had been mobilised and a hunt was immediately launched, added Mr Omar.

Police, he said, was also checking on Mr Maslan's background to see if he was a legal worker besides follow-up operations to find any local links.

He also did not rule out the possibility that the gunmen might have entered Sabah days earlier.

"These kidnap-for-ransom groups are looking for 'commodities' and it does not matter if they are tourists or fish farm operators," he said.

Malaysia's Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he believed the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) was effective in ensuring the security of Sabah's east coast.

Describing the gunmen as a "vindictive lot", he called on the security forces to strengthen their intelligence-gathering and exchanging of data with their Filipino counterparts.