Malaysian academic: Abu Sayyaf a bigger threat than ISIS to Sabah


KOTA KINABALU - Sabah is less vulnerable to the Islamic State (IS) but is more exposed to threats from the southern Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf militant group.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah academic Prof Dr Kamarulzaman Askandar said IS was more influential in the Malay Muslim heartland and was not likely to sway the local populace as there was a high level of religious tolerance.

"I believe IS' dogma would get more feelings of support in areas with large Muslim populations.

"In Sabah, there is no religious extremism compared with Malay Muslim states in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia or even southern Johor," said the Humanities, Art and Heritage Faculty lecturer.

Prof Kamarulzaman, who specialises in conflicts and peace making, said there was no doubt there was a large number of Indonesian migrants in Sabah unlike other states in the country but they mainly provided the manpower needs, particularly for the plantation sector, and were unlikely to be involved in IS ideology.

"Their large presence and the movement of people in the east coast of Sabah does not necessarily mean the state is vulnerable," he said.

Prof Kamarulzaman said although the Abu Sayyaf had declared that it was allied with the IS, its focus was still on kidnap for ransom.

"Abu Sayyaf is not known to carry out suicide bombings. Its modus operandi is more focused on kidnappings," he said.

He said the arrest of a 31-year-old man from Sabah, who was an assistant manager of the housekeeping unit of a hotel in Nusajaya, Johor, was not an indication there were such militants in the state.

The arrest of the "Sabahan" raised questions as to whether he was really from the state or just an illegal immigrant who obtained a Malaysian identity card from syndicates.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, who chaired the State Security Council meeting on Monday, also cast doubts on the man's Sabah roots and urged the authorities to investigate his background.

On the IS threat, Musa said the general security situation in the state was "good and under control" but hoped that people would play a more proactive role in informing the authorities about suspicious movements or activities.

"They should be the eyes and ears for the authorities," he said, adding that the State Security Council had discussed issues involving IS influence and threats in the state.

He said all government agencies had been directed to monitor potential security threats.