Death of top ISIS militant Isnilon Hapilon may end kidnappings in Sabah, Malaysian council leader says

Isnilon Hapilon (2nd left), leader of the hardline Abu Sayyaf group, with Abdullah Maute (front right), as they plan an attack at an undisclosed location on Mindanao island. PHOTO: AFP/PHILIPPINE ARMY

TAWAU - The death of top ISIS militant and Abu Sayyaf Group chief Isnilon Hapilon in the battle in the Philippine city of Marawi on Monday (Oct 16) raises hopes of an end to kidnappings in Sabah's east, a Malaysian council said.

The secretary of the Sabah Suluk Solidarity Council, Mohd Zaki Harry Susanto, said the council hoped that the peaceful atmosphere in the waters of the Sulu Sea would return to normal to enable all economic activities to resume, Bernama reported.

He added that he hoped the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) could tighten control of the territorial waters along Malaysia and the Philippines. Esscom is a security area that spans 10 districts from Kudat to Tawau.

Mohd Zaki said there were now fears that fragment groups of the Abu Sayyaf would slip into Sabah to evade the security forces of the Philippines and use the state as their location to carry out their strategic planning. This, he said, was possible because they were desperate to save themselves and continue their struggle or seek revenge for the death of their leader.

"They may masquerade as fishermen, traders or tourists to slip into Sabah and this situation must be given attention to maintain the security in the state," said Mohd Zaki.

"The people of Sabah must also help Esscom by informing them of the presence of suspicious characters in their respective areas so that appropriate action can be taken," he told Bernama.

The Philippine secretary of defence Delfin Lorenzana earlier on Monday confirmed that Isnilon and Maute terrorist group leader Omar Mauter had been killed in the battle in Marawi.

Hapilon had been designated by the ultra-radical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as its top man in South-east Asia.

The small but brutal Abu Sayyaf group is notorious for its high-profile kidnappings and killings of a number of foreigners.

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