But Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) Director-General Datuk Mohammad Mentek quickly allayed fears, saying the town was safe and calm, refuting claims circulated via social media of a tense situation there.
Social media had it that Malaysian security forces exchanged fire with cross border criminals in Kunak. But Mohammad Mentek denied this.
He said the recent kidnapping in Kg Air Sapang had triggered Esscom to launch the 22nd integrated "Ops Gasak", which involved the army, police, Immigration Department and the National Registration Department The focus was on three villages, namely Kg Bakau, Kg Nelayan and Kg Basilan where tight security was mounted in the bid to trace those without legal documents.
"I hope the people will remain calm and not spread rumours, especially through the social media," he said in a statement.
A villager, who only wanted to be known as Roy, said he was shocked to see a huge number of security forces at the entrance to Kg Pangkalan.
"I was driving towards the jetty in the village but had to turn back when the security forces ordered me not to enter the Pangkalan area," he claimed.
He claimed that the route to Kg Pangkalan only returned to normal after 11am.
District Officer Susilo Sumarto, who is also the district Security Committee Chairman, said several routes to certain locations were closed such as Jalan Pangkalan Kunak heading towards the wet market as forces tightened security to track illegals, adding that no curfew was imposed in the district.
Esscom Director of Operations, Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun, said a total of 129 people believed to be illegal immigrants were detained in the operation carried out for seven hours from 3am on Wednesday.
He said all of them, including 34 women, were detained for having no valid identification documents, adding that the illegals were then brought to the Kunak community hall before being handed over to the Immigration Department.