Esscom’s psy-ops paying off against piracy, militancy

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PETALING JAYA: Eastern Sabah Security Command’s (Esscom) psychological operations are paying dividends with tip-offs from the public leading to successes that have included the killing of an Abu Sayyaf leader, a top security official has said.

“The ‘Program Semarak’ we have been doing with the community at the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) has borne fruit with locals giving us information,” Esscom commander DCP Hazani Ghazali said during an interview aired on TV3 yesterday evening.

“For example, our successful operation that killed the Abu Sayyaf man, Abu Paliyak, on Dec 4, was the result of our ‘gerak saraf’ (psychological operation),” he said

Abu Paliyak, who belonged to an Abu Sayyaf group responsible for kidnappings for ransom and robberies in the east coast of Sabah, was killed by Esscom’s special forces during a chase in the waters near Pulau Kantong Kalungan off Lahad Datu.

The 31-year-old, also known as Komander Paliyak @ Yusuf, is also believed to have been a scout and informant for the Remy Gang, a kidnap-for-ransom group involved in cross-border crimes in the waters off southern Philippines and Sabah’s east coast.

Hazani said Esscom had been involving the people in its activities such as the “Program Khatan” (boys’ circumcision programme) during school breaks and “korban” (ritual animal sacrifice) during Hari Raya Aidil Adha.

“Through these psychological operations, we get to know the community and forge a close relationship with the people. We build their trust and confidence in us.”

Esscom was formed in April 2013 following the intrusion into Lahad Datu by armed militants sent by the self-proclaimed Sultanate of Sulu in southern Philippines to stake their so-called territorial claim on Sabah.

According to Hazani, more psychological operations would be conducted this year by meeting more people in villages.

“We have been doing this for five years since Esscom’s inception,” he said.

The commander said he hoped the awareness generated by the psychological operations would encourage the people to report suspicious activities near them.

“We are aware of the Malay saying ‘jangan jaga tepi kain orang’ (don’t stick your nose in other people’s business),” said Hazani.

“This adage has its use, but in the case of safety and security, I do urge the community to please stick their nose in other’s business.

“We are also aware of sympathisers of bad elements such as militants fighting in Marawi in southern Philippines, so we hope the community will play its part.”

In October, FMT broke the news on Esscom’s security breach by wanted pro-Islamic State (IS) Sabahan militant Amin Baco.

FMT had earlier received a tip-off from a former hostage in the Marawi war about Amin and his son fighting Philippine troops in the city this year.

Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun later confirmed to FMT that Amin had returned from southern Philippines to pick up his son, aged around 13 now, believed from his wife’s house on Sebatik island off Tawau, as early as 2015.

Fuzi said some members of the community were supportive of the militants’ action in Marawi, and therefore were not forthcoming with the authorities about the boy missing from home.