Esscom to create island post to stop militants

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PETALING JAYA: The Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) will create a security post near Sebatik Island where wanted Sabahan militant Amin Baco is believed to have breached the security perimeter to pick up his teenage son before taking him back to southern Philippines.

In October, FMT broke the news of the teenager fighting in the frontlines at Marawi city with his father. This was witnessed by a former hostage in the besieged southern Philippine city.

Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun later confirmed with FMT that Amin had come back from southern Philippines to his family home in Sabah to take his son as early as 2015.

Most recently, Bukit Aman counterterrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay told reporters that Amin has two wives, one in Sebatik and the other the daughter of Isnilon Hapilon, who was the Islamic State (IS) emir-designate for southern Philippines and who was killed in clashes in Marawi.

“Yes, it was a breach of our security perimeter by Amin,” Esscom chief Hazani Ghazali said when contacted by FMT.

“We will open a post on Ligitan Island, near Sebatik Island, to boost security in the waters surrounding the islands.

“Ligitan is a Malaysian island very close to southern Philippines. We believe we will then be able to prevent further entry into our coast.”

Sebatik Island is located off the coast of Tawau with its north side belonging to Malaysia and the southern portion part of Indonesian territory.

Ligitan is a small island which sits in the Celebes Sea between Sebatik and southern Philippines.

Ayob Khan had told reporters that Amin’s son is still alive and believed to now be in Basilan.

The former hostage, Lordvin Acopio, who was a teacher with a college in Marawi, later told FMT if the boy is now in Basilan, his father must be there too because the duo had never left each other’s side during the Marawi war.

During the five-month Marawi clashes, the Philippine authorities reported having encountered armed resistance from women and children, believed to be family members of the terrorists.

However, the Malaysian teen was the only foreign minor reported to have been involved in the fighting in Marawi.

Acopio, who was taken hostage by the militants when the fighting first broke out on May 23, said Amin and his son had been mostly at the frontlines instead of at the rebels’ command centre.

“I only talked to the boy when they dropped by at the place where we, the hostages, were held,” Acopio had earlier told FMT.

“Sometimes, they just dropped by to rest or talk to the other fighters. When they were done, they’d go back to the frontlines.”

Acopio, whose harrowing four-month hostage experience was widely reported by the Philippine media, was taken by the militants from one hiding place to another, including the Bato Mosque, which was used as a command centre by the terrorists.

“There were children who were kidnapped along with their families, around 15 of them, and the Malaysian boy would play with them.

“I think the Malaysian militant and his son could speak Tagalog. I don’t know what they talked about because we weren’t allowed to listen in,” he was quoted as saying.

Acopio said he did not know the boy’s exact age but estimated him to be about 13. “He’s small but already carrying a gun. He was involved in fighting the troops.”

Amin and his son also had special access, usually reserved for high-ranking militants, to Isnilon at the militants’ command centre, Acopio said.

The Philippine authorities were earlier divided over whether Amin was still alive and was now the new emir of IS in Southeast Asia following Isnilon’s death.

However, the latest statements by the military indicated Amin may still be alive and one of 10 candidates slated for the IS leadership position.

More than 1,100 people, mostly militants, were killed during the fighting between security forces and militants who wanted to create a so-called IS caliphate in Marawi.

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