Intelligence key to fighting cross-border kidnappers

Tourists near the Sabah's eastern tourist paradise of Semporna.

KOTA KINABALU - Intelligence is the key in Malaysia's fight against the well-oiled southern Philippines-based cross-border kidnappers.

Ground commanders in the east coast of Sabah are fully aware that they are dealing with an organised criminal gang that has their "own intelligence" networks within the porous Sabah borders.

Efforts to identify moles living among the local coastal settlements have been stepped up recently under Ops Gasak, coordinated by Eastern Sabah Security Command.

Esscom director-general Datuk Mohammad Mentek said that apart from placing security forces in strategic areas, their focus was to obtain intelligence to counter the kidnappers who target tourists in Sabah's world-renowned dive resorts.

Mohammad said they were working to develop a stronger intelligence network.

Currently, most of the intelligence was from the police special branch unit but there was a need for other security agencies to play a role.

"Esscom had only been set up for a year, and we are still developing our own sources because so far, most of our intelligence are from the police force," he said.

Mohammad said the military unit also helped, but their scope of information was limited.

"This is because at every district police station, there are special units or intelligence teams whereas for the military or Esscom itself, coverage is limited," he explained.

Esscom itself, he said, was mainly in charge of coordinating and collaborating with the various agencies to safeguard the east coast and 10 districts under the Esszone - Kudat, Kota Marudu, Pitas, Beluran, Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau.

Mohammad also said Esscom was constantly working with enforcement agencies including the police, army and marine to control and subsequently prevent kidnappings, smuggling and other cross-border criminal activities.