The group that allegedly landed in Lahad Datu is said to be a breakaway faction of the MNLF.
Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that a group of foreigners were found to have landed in the east coast Lahad Datu district on Feb 12.
“The group was wearing robes and is suspected to have come from the Philippines,” he said.
“I have ordered Armed Forces Chief Jen Zulkifeli Mohd Zin to take immediate action together with the police,” Zahid told reporters in Bagan Serai, Perak.
Zahid said immediate action was necessary to ensure the country’s defence and security was at optimum level and not compromised.
“We will also seek cooperation from neighbouring countries. I will also ask the Armed Forces chief to give a detailed report on the situation there when possible,” he added.
Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib, when contacted declined to comment, and said any statement on the matter would come from Bukit Aman.
It is understood that the military and police tactical units have been mobilised to seek for “militants’’ in the Tambisan area, the eastern tip of Sabah and a 45-minute speed boat ride from the Philippines island of Bongao.
Tambisan is a coastal area located 165km from Lahad Datu town, where the main economic activity is oil palm plantations and fishery industry.
In November last year, two men – an estate manager and a supervisor – were abducted by armed men while visiting a birds’ nest structure at their oil palm plantation in the Tambisan area. The two, said to be cousins, were believed to have been taken to the Southern Philippines.
Talks that militants have attempted to land in Lahad Datu in about a dozen small boats have been rife since early this month. Since then, marine police patrols in the district.
According to local residents, foreigners peddling cigarettes and other items in the streets of Lahad Datu have “disappeared” over the past few days.
Some of these foreigners told locals that they were scared as “a group of MNLF has come”.
The talk among the foreigners is that the group arrived following last year’s October peace deal between the MILF and the Philippine government, which Malaysia helped broker.
Residents in the Tambisan area have claimed to have seen stepped-up military movements in the area and talks of militants in the vicinity have caused anxiety there as well as in Lahad Datu.
“We have heard of the militants’ presence in the area off and on for the past few days. We are worried,” said former Felda Residence hotel manager Azhar Sanusi.