Two gunmen on the loose in Malaysia with hostage in tow

KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A massive search for two gunmen and a hostage is underway following a gunfight on Thursday (Dec 8) in the sea off Semporna in Malaysia.

Three kidnappers were killed and two others arrested in the incident. Reports suggest they were Filipinos.

But the Philippine military said on Friday it was still verifying if Filipinos were involved in the kidnapping, Inquirer reported.

The police's Tiger Platoon team managed to rescue one kidnap victim, while a lance corporal, who was shot in the foot, is recovering in hospital.

Giving a clearer picture of the events that led to the shooting, Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun said the armed group, comprising seven people in a speedboat, had approached a fishing trawler in the waters between Pulau Bakapit and Pulau Adal at about 9pm on Thursday.

He said the men, armed with four rifles and one pistol, had clambered on board the trawler and robbed the fishermen of valuables, handphones and food before kidnapping the boat's skipper.

Rashid said the skipper holds a IMM 13 immigration document, which is given to Filipino refugees in Sabah.

The gunmen destroyed all communications equipment, before heading towards Pulau Semporna where they hit another fishing trawler.

In the confusion, many crewmen from the second fishing vessel jumped into sea.

However, the gunmen managed to cart away an outboard engine before heading to the vessel's light boat, anchored a distanced away, from which they kidnapped one person.

As the gunmen were heading out they approached an unmarked boat which was actually manned by the General Operations Force's Tiger Platoon.

A shootout followed in which three of the kidnappers were killed.

Rashid said three people were discovered alive following the gunfight - two gunmen and the skipper of the fishing trawler.

However, two other gunmen and the victim from second kidnapping could not be located.