SEMPORNA - The Sabah Eastern Security Command (Esscom) is not discounting the possibility that the shootout on Mabul island is in retaliation to the security forces that have intensified enforcement in the state's eastern waters, said Esscom commander DCP Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun on Sunday.
Abdul Rashid said that the eight gunmen could have planned to carry out a kidnapping at one of the island's resorts but instead attacked the two policemen.
"If this is the cause, this means that the security forces sacrificed to prevent a kidnapping from taking place," he added.
On Saturday, Kpl Rajah Jamuan went down firing at heavily armed Filipino gunmen as they were believed to have grabbed his colleague during the 11pm raid.
The 32-year old from Semporna, who was with marine police constable Zakiah Aliep, 26, were attacked as they were having a meal during the raid at the security post at the Mabul Water Bungalows Resort.
Rajah's body was found below the jetty of the resort while Zakiah was reported missing.
Three other marine personnel in a patrol boat close to the area moved in to assists as the gunmen fled.
The marine team immediately alerted their base as security forces within the Eastern Sabah Security Command immediately put in place Ops Tutup.
A massive sea and air hunt was immediately launched early Sunday.
The masked gunmen clad in military fatigues had reportedly crossed over to the Tawi Tawi chain of islands in the southern Philippines.
The raid is widely seen as a "revenge" attack against security forces because of recent clampdowns against militant and kidnap-for-ransom groups operating in the east coast.
Earlier, sources said that initial indication was that the gunmen might have rowed slowly into the area with their boat when it was low tide before climbing up the resorts jetty from the back of the building.
The shootings towards the restaurant, reception office and jetty area started as soon as they entered the building.
They grabbed marine police constable Zakiah after shooting their way out with Rajah and fled towards their waiting boat to make their escape.
One of the policeman Sjn Jeffridin, who was on a boat with two others nearby, heard the commotion and went to investigate. He found two of his colleagues had gone missing, it is learnt.
Most resorts guests and workers were already in their rooms and sleeping when the incident occurred at the resort whose villas sat on stilts while people at resorts along Mabul island beach only said that they heard gunshots but remained indoors until morning.
"We heard the shooting but we did not come out. At 6.30am (Sunday), I went to ask the General Operations Force (GOF) personnel (stationed on Mabul) if anything had happened, they told me nothing happened.
"But I read on online news that there was shooting and kidnapping,'' a resort worker said on a condition of anonymity.