Sabah locals helping terror group to target tourists, says terrorism expert
An expert on terrorism has said that the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) is getting help from locals and "assessment experts" or lookouts in Sabah.
They have been stationed at airports in the state to identify kidnapping targets among tourists, Mr Andrin Raj told the New Straits Times.
Mr Raj works with the governments and enforcement agencies in the region and advises them on combating terrorism.
He is also the South-east Asia regional director for the International Association of Counter terrorism and Security Professionals.
About two weeks ago, the Abu Sayyaf beheaded 39-year-old Malaysian Bernard Then.
Mr Then was kidnapped along with restaurant manager Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, from Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in Sandakan, Sabah, on May 15.
Ms Thien was released on Nov 8, The Star reported.
Mr Raj told the New Straits Times that Abu Sayyaf operatives have been planted in strategic areas in Sabah, ready to carry out kidnap-for-ransom assignments the minute they get the "go-ahead".
He said a Filipino group based in Sabah known as the "Knights of the Right Keeper" was supporting the Abu Sayyaf and helping it to carry out such activities.
"Besides having its operatives rooted in Sabah and areas outside the state, it also has a large network that allows it to tap critical information," he added.
Revealing the modus operandi of these operatives, Mr Raj said they would monitor arrivals and through their network of communications, identify potential victims.
Once identified, he said, the operatives would provide detailed information on the targeted tourists' place of stay and duration of stay as well as other information to facilitate the kidnapping.
Mr Raj says the group is targeting tourists to get international attention. "Malaysian victims are just 'collateral damage.'"
He also underlined the importance of thwarting kidnap attempts before they reach Malaysian soil.
"All maritime threats start from land and need to end on land. Many of these Filipinos are moving in and out of Sabah to trade with ease," he said.
"If the Malaysian authorities could confine trading groups in Sabah to designated areas, we can have better control of the movements in the state."
He also added that Malaysia and the Philippines should strive to strengthen border control and share intelligence.