Malaysian police say they’ve arrested eight suspects including a number of alleged members of Abu Sayyaf, after reports the group was planning to carry out a series of kidnappings in the waters off eastern Sabah in Malaysian Borneo.
The men – one from Malaysia and seven from the Philippines – were picked up in a series of raids over the past two weeks in Malaysia’s administrative capital Putrajaya, as well as the Borneo state of Sabah, Chief of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement on Friday.
Among those held was a 30-year-old Filipino who is suspected of being a commander in Abu Sayyaf and the “right-hand man” to senior leader Furuji Indama, Mohamad Fuzi said.
The man was picked up by counterterrorism police on November 10 in Kinarut, a town in western Sabah.
The arrests come two weeks after the commander of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), Hazani Ghazali, told Malaysian media there was a heightened risk of kidnappings in the waters off Sabah.
Esscom, established after a 2013 raid into Sabah by a group of Filipinos claiming the land as theirs, received information that as many as 10 armed members of Abu Sayyaf planned to target businessmen or the crew of foreign vessels in the seas around Sabah’s east coast.
Abu Sayyaf is based in the southern Philippines and secured notoriety nearly 20 years ago when it kidnapped 21 people including foreign tourists from Sipadan, an island that attracts diving enthusiasts from across the world, demanding millions of dollars for their release. More recently, some of its leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
Those arrested included a Filipino suspected of being a weapons maker for the group, Malaysian police said.
Two others – both Filipinos – were allegedly looking to recruit children who could be used as “human shields” in any fighting with the Philippine military. Police say the two were also executioners for Abu Sayyaf and were trying to escape back to the Philippines when they were caught.
The first arrest was made on October 30 in Putrajaya when the police picked up a 38-year-old Malaysian suspected of channelling funds to Akel Zainal, a Malaysian ISIL fighter in Syria.
All eight are being held under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act.