Puzzled Sabah cops not ruling out revenge in kidnapping of sea gypsies

Sabah police are working with the authorities in the Philippines in the investigations.

KOTA KINABALU: Police are puzzled about the motive behind the kidnapping of 10 fishermen from the sea gypsy community in Sabah waters yesterday.

The usual targets of these kidnap-for-ransom gangs are locals, tourists and business people but a few previous incidents, including the latest one off Lahad Datu district, involve foreign fishermen.

Besides the incident on Tuesday, two other kidnappings occurred in Sabah in September and December last year — after almost two years without any abduction being reported — with the victims being mostly foreign fishermen.

State police commissioner Omar Mammah said the obvious reason was money but they were also looking at other angles, including revenge.

“Most probably, the kidnappers are hoping their employers would pay the ransom although no calls have been made by the group yet,” he told FMT.

Asked if the incident could have been motivated by revenge, he said: “I can’t rule that out.”

Omar said police were working with the authorities in the Philippines in the investigations.

Ten gunmen, believed to be linked to the Abu Sayyaf militant group, boarded two fishing vessels and fled with the 10 fishermen, all believed to be Bajau Laut, a community of sea gypsies who are mostly stateless, early Tuesday.

Police said the incident occurred far from the shore, near the international border off Felda Sahabat in Lahad Datu about 2am. Those abducted, aged between 17 and 60, are not Malaysians.

The two fishing boats, whose owners are based in Sabah, are believed to have been heading to Semporna from Lahad Datu’s Tambisan waters when the gunmen, in speedboats, stopped them.

There were six people in the first fishing boat and 10 in the second.

The remaining six fishermen, who were not taken, were later rescued by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).

They claimed they were heading to Semporna to renew their permits for the curfew imposed in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone).

The gunmen are believed to have fled towards Sitangkai island in the Philippines, which is a 15-minute boat ride from Tambisan.