Why It Matters

Terrorists turn to Sabah route

Malaysian police on Wednesday announced the arrest of four Malaysians and seven Filipinos for being part of a scheme to provide safe passage for terrorists to enter the southern Philippines via Sabah using fake travel documents.

Five months earlier, Malaysia had arrested seven Filipinos who were working in peninsula Malaysia as security guards. The men were suspected members of terrorist group Abu Sayyaf who had sneaked into Sabah using, again, fake travel papers.

Malaysia also announced on Wednesday that it had crippled a document-and stamp-forging syndicate allegedly masterminded by a 26-year-old Pakistani.

The Malaysian police must be lauded for these arrests, while alarm bells should be ringing around the region. These three events show that the terrorists are well organised and funded.

Found with the Pakistani suspect were fake passport stamps. Officials say he had entry and exit stamps for the Kuala Lumpur airport and the Johor immigration checkpoint, as well as a Singapore security stamp. He also had fake passports.

While it is not yet clear if there is a direct link between the forgery syndicate and the militants, its criminal expertise can easily be used by terrorists.

Police said the immigration stamps could be had for RM100 (S$33.8) and fake identity documents for as low as RM350.

Noting that Sabah, located south-west of Mindanao and other southern Philippine islands, is a transit point for militants, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told immigration to conduct checks at Sabah's airports to hopefully uncover fake documents being used by those who want to travel to kill and maim.

With Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq lost to terrorists, it is clear that they are using the southern Philippines as a training ground to launch attacks elsewhere, with Sabah as a transit point.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2018, with the headline 'Terrorists turn to Sabah route'. Print Edition | Subscribe