Sayyaf member spent 20 years in Sabah
Published on: Monday, June 17, 2019
By: Nikko Fabian
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KOTA KINABALU: One of the six suspected militants from the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf group arrested by military operatives in two separate operations in the Philippines last month lived in Sabah for more than two decades and was involved in human trafficking and smuggling weapons.

The six identified as Azmier Maalum, Amar Assan, Musa Tahil Sampang, Jamil Ibrahim, Yong Aming and Majuk Tahil Amil were suspected of involvement in kidnapping, ambushes, bomb attacks and recruitment.

The Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) presented the six – two captured in Taguig, one in Bataan and three in Zamboanga City on May 16 and 20 – to the media in Manila.

“The six were suspected of involvement in kidnapping, ambushes, bomb attacks and recruitment,” NBI spokesman Ferdinand Lavin said during the briefing.

He said the arrest stemmed from intelligence reports.

Lavin added that five were behind the kidnap of 50 workers from a plantation at Tam-Awan in Basilan province in 2001, while the sixth detainee allegedly took part in the abduction of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sulu Province’s Patikul in 2002.

“The joint operations were conducted by operatives from the NBI, the Philippine Navy (PN) and the Philippine National Police (PNP),” he said.

The PNP said Ibrahim had lived in Sabah for 26 years and was in charge of smuggling guns and people from Mindanao.

Police authorities said they raided hideouts days after the killing of a Dutch wildlife photographer, Ewold Horn, on May 31, when insurgents holding the 59-year-old hostage clashed with government security forces in restive southern Philippines.

Horn was the first Western captive killed by Abu Sayyaf since the group executed two Canadians and a German in 2016.

“He (Ibrahim) is a reliable boatman,” the NBI also claimed, adding the militant’s fighters were decreasing so they had to recruit more for Mindanao.

In April, police also arrested an Abu Sayyaf member working as a security guard in metro Manila. 

Aldemar Murih Saiyari was accused of kidnapping and had been employed as a guard using a fake licence.

The terrorist organisation continues to be a problem for Malaysia as well, with the authorities saying the threat remains high.

Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Abdul Hamid Bador has said Sabah’s proximity to the Philippines leaves it vulnerable, with Sulu only less than an hour’s boat ride away.

Founded in the early 1990s, Abu Sayyaf has carried out a number of kidnappings, bombings and beheadings in the southern Philippines over the past decade.

The militants are notorious for abducting foreigners and have carried out several other atrocities in the region this year, including a Sulu cathedral bombing in January that left 23 dead and more than 100 injured.

In July last year, they detonated a car bomb at a military checkpoint in Basilan province, killing 11.

The arrest of the six suspects is a sign of how the terrorist network continues to trouble Southeast Asia even as its influence wanes in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Regional military spokesman Colonel Gerry Besana said “militants were exploiting poverty and using offers of money and scholarship grants to radicalise and recruit new members.”

According to academic Ramon Beleno III, head of political science and history at Ateneo de Davao University, reports of militants recruiting new fighters in urban centres such as Manila were worrying and could increase their capacity to launch attacks.

“This (arrest of Abu Sayyaf working as security guard) is a cause for concern since security guards are our frontline defence – at railway stations, airports and bus depots. 

“The police need to intensify their intelligence operations,” Beleno stressed.

The number of hostages currently being held by Abu Sayyaf is unclear.

The military says there is none but the Philippine National Police claim two Vietnamese and four Filipinos remain unaccounted for.

The military deployed a battalion to Sulu last week in pursuit of Abu Sayyaf, bringing the total number of troops in the province to more than 10,000.


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