Smugglers link to kidnap gangs

KOTA KINABALU - Security forces in eastern Sabah upped the ante against smugglers as they are believed to be working with southern Philippines based cross-border kidnap for ransom gangs.

Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) commander Deputy Com­missioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun said that based on intelligence they have found some clear links between the activities of smugglers and kidnap groups.

"If we can put a stop to smuggling activities including identifying the masterminds, we believe we can lessen the possibility of cross-border kidnap activities," he said after briefing the Prime Minister's Department Implementation and Coordination Unit (ICU) director-general Tan Sri Shukry Salleh at the Esscom headquarters here yesterday.

Police have so far identified and are hunting for five people including the notorious Muktadir brothers based in the Tawi Tawi island chain, close to the eastern Sabah border, and have made some breakthroughs with the arrests of several suspected scouts for the group.

Rashid said they were continuing their operations against bad hats and illegal immigrants in the area as they suspect the large coastal community could be aiding or assisting such groups.

Since November last year, he said 2,206 illegal immigrants were arrested in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) during 31 integrated multi-agency operations codenamed Ops Gasak. Those detained were 1,452 men; 369 women and 171 boys and 215 girls.

Rashid added that they screened 6,155 people during the operations at water villagers and resorts.

He said Ops Gasak was aimed at clearing the Esszone areas of illegal immigrants. Esszone stretches 1,733.7kms from northern Kudat to south eastern Tawau.

It involves the districts of Kudat, Kota Marudu, Pitas, Beluran, Sanda­kan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna, and Tawau.