Police in Malaysia have shot dead five suspected members of the Philippine armed group, Abu Sayyaf, during a firefight on the Malaysian portion of Borneo island, an official said.
Hazani Ghazali, police commissioner of Malaysia’s Sabah state, announced the deaths in a statement on Tuesday.
He said the attack occurred on Monday when men armed with guns and machetes attacked Malaysian police during a raid in the town of Beaufort in the state of Sabah on Borneo.
All five killed were Filipinos and included a man identified as Mabar Binda – an Abu Sayyaf sub-commander who is on the Philippine government’s most-wanted list.
“With the death of these five, we believe that we have crippled yet another cell of Abu Sayyaf hiding out in Sabah,” Ghazali said.
The Abu Sayyaf group, whose members pledged allegiance to ISIL (ISIS) in 2014, is based in the southern Philippines and is notorious for bombings, beheadings, extortions and kidnap-for-ransom activities.
Authorities in Malaysia have stepped up efforts to crack down on the activity of armed groups after an attack linked to ISIL in the capital Kuala Lumpur in 2016 and others in neighbouring countries.
Ghazali said Malaysian police have detained 83 people in Sabah between 2014 and 2020 for suspected links to ISIL.
Sabah has long grappled with the threat of armed kidnappers, including those from Abu Sayyaf, taking advantage of the proximity and porous maritime borders between the southern Philippines and the Malaysian state.
In March, the Philippine military said its troops killed an Abu Sayyaf leader and rescued four Indonesian hostages who had been kidnapped from Sabah.
The hostages had been held for more than a year.