Increased patrols along Sabah's eastern borders

KOTA KINABALU - Security officials are increasing patrols along Sabah's eastern borders following Tuesday's incident where armed intruders held local fishermen near the resort island of Mabul in Semporna.

Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) director-general Datuk Mohammad Mentek said that increased patrols were being carried out by security officials at various strategic areas along the 1,733km coastline from northern Kudat to southeastern Tawau district which comprises 480 islands.

Mohammad said people should not panic as the many rumours about the return and attacks by the defeated Sulu intruders were part of their psychological warfare, aimed at instilling fear and disrupting the harmony of the people.

He said the armed intruders who held the local fishermen off Semporna were merely pirates and were not linked to the Sulu army or any militant groups of a neighbouring country.

"It is just the work of criminals. It was not a case of kidnapping for ransom," he said, adding that the police were investigating the claims by the fishermen.

"We can't have men stationed everywhere but we have stepped up patrols by the various security agencies to ensure that the sovereignty of the country is not breached."

Meanwhile, Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib said police were recording statements from the local fishermen allegedly taken as hostages and were trying to determine the identity of the group and whether they were involved in terrorism.

He said initial investigations revealed that in Tuesday's incident the victims were not harmed by some 20 gunmen who were armed with shotguns and pistols.

They were released after being relieved off their money, handphones and other valuables.

Hamza said the case was being investigated under the Penal Code for gang robbery and the Firearms Act.

He said that almost every island, including mainland Semporna, had security bases under Esscom.