KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 ― Malaysian security forces are on full alert amid intelligence reports that an armed group of Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf terrorists have been in waters off Sabah on a hunt for fresh hostages to fund their campaign.

The group numbering some 17 gunmen are believed to be led by sub-commanders Salip Mura, Majan Sahidjuan @ Apo Mike and Abu Radin who left their Jolo base two days ago for the Tawi-Tawi islands, The Star reported today.

According to the report, this kidnap-for-ransom group has been using underworld contacts in Tawi-Tawi to identity potential high-value targets along Sabah’s eastern coast.

Eastern Sabah Security Command commander Datuk Huzani Ghazali said security forces are aware of the group’s movement and are monitoring Sabah’s sea border along Semporna, Lahad Datu and Sandakan.

“We remain on full alert and have deployed all available forces into the area,” he was quoted saying.

The Star reported Salip to be behind at least two kidnapping incidents in Sabah last year while Apo is supposedly responsible for kidnappings in the north Borneo state between 2014 and 2016.

The dawn to dusk curfew has been extended along seven eastern Sabah districts until March 27.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Omar Mammah who announced the curfew yesterday said it is to prevent intrusion by criminals.