KOTA KINABALU • The abduction of four Malaysians from a vessel off Sabah by gunmen last Friday shows an apparent change in tactics by kidnapping gangs.
Heightened security on Sabah's east coast following past abductions may have led kidnappers to grab hostages from ships or vessels plying the border waters between Malaysia and the Philippines instead of from land.
On March 26, in the Philippines' Tawi Tawi chain of islands close to Sabah, 10 gunmen linked to the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group abducted 10 Indonesian crewmen from two Indonesian-flagged tugboats, Brahma 12 and Anand 12.
One of the tugboats was found adrift near Laguyan in Tawi Tawi but the 10 Indonesians had vanished along with their kidnappers.
Abu Sayyaf has since demanded about RM5 million (S$1.7 million) for the release of the 10 men and Anand 12.
In a similar modus operandi last Friday night, eight gunmen boarded Malaysian tugboat MV Masfive 6 near Ligitan island off the east coast of Sabah.
They seized the four Malaysians from Sibu, Sarawak - brothers Wong Teck Kang, 31, and Wong Teck Chii, 29, Mr Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21, and Mr Wong Hung Sing, 34 - before fleeing in a speedboat towards the Philippines.
Five other crew members - three from Myanmar and two from Indonesia - who were unharmed alerted their company to the incident at about 7pm. The tugboat returned to Tawau, Sabah, where it was headed after unloading timber in Manila.
Yesterday, the Malaysian authorities said they were working with their Philippine counterparts to secure the release of the four men.
However, the police have yet to receive a ransom demand, according to Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar. He also said the police were investigating whether the Abu Sayyaf was behind the latest kidnapping.
Sabah Police Commissioner Abdul Rashid Harun said it looked like cross-border kidnapping groups were starting a new trend and operating along the borders, given the stepped-up security on Sabah's east coast.
"Due also to the ongoing curfew, the latest incident occurred at the periphery of the Sabah-Philippine border," he said. "These criminals no longer choose their victims. They will take just about anyone as long as it's easy for them to grab and leave."
Datuk Abdul Rashid said the authorities were not sure which group was responsible for the latest kidnapping, adding that they were waiting to hear from their counterparts in southern Philippines.
He said this when asked whether the notorious kidnap-for-ransom Muktadir brothers, with links to Abu Sayyaf, were involved. The brothers are responsible for half a dozen abductions in Sabah.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK