KOTA KINABALU - At least four of the seven gunmen involved in the kidnapping of two foreign women from the Singamata Reef Resort are no strangers to Sabah's diving heaven of Semporna.
Investigations have indicated that the four are familiar with the Semporna waters including Sipadan, Mabul and Kapalai islands as they have families and friends living in coastal villages in the area.
Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) director-general Datuk Mohammad Mentek said yesterday the four identified abductors were also involved in various smuggling activities in the district.
"Our investigations with the police have led to the conclusion that these kidnappers will seek shelter with their friends and families every time they come here," he said.
Mohammad said one of the four identified men was involved in the Nov 15 kidnapping of Taiwanese businesswoman Chang An Wei, 59, from Pom Pom Island Resort. Her husband Hsu Li Min, 57, was killed. Chang was released after 36 days in captivity.
He said they believed the three other identified suspects were part of the group led by Ghalib Andang @ Commander Robot that snatched 21 tourists and resort workers from Sipadan in April 2000.
Police have so far arrested four local Filipinos from the Singamata resort believed to have links to gunmen who abducted Filipina Marcy Dayawan, 40, and Chinese tourist Gao Huayun, 29.
Police have confirmed that two of the suspects are close relatives of Dayawan.
On the condition of the two hostages, Mohammad said based on intelligence reports they were "alive and well" at an area close to Jolo island.
"However, we cannot reveal any more details and most of the information is with our Philippine counterparts," he added.
On whether any ransom calls had been made by the gunmen, Mohammad said that one call was made a few hours after the two were abducted from the resort at 10.30pm on April 2, though it had nothing to do with ransom demands.
However, he said based on the information received by Esscom, calls allegedly by the gunmen claimed the two women were safe in their hands.
Mohammad also said Esscom officials would be going to every resort in Semporna to update all details of employees as well as tourists.
"This will help us monitor the movement of their staff and tourists better as we will require them to update us on these lists every two or three days," he added.
Mohammad said Esscom would be beefing up security around Semporna by about 30 per cent from its current deployment of personnel and assets in the area.
"It doesn't mean that we are neglecting other areas. It is just that there are more resorts and movements in Semporna," he added.