KOTA KINABALU, Sept 4 — Two men in a pump boat were shot dead by security forces during a gunfire exchange at sea off Sabah’s east coast late last night.
Sabah police commissioner Datuk Omar Mammah said the incident happened at about 11pm in the waters of Sahabat Lahad Datu, about 10 nautical miles from shore.
A patrol boat carrying forces from the police, marine police and Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) came across two pump boats.
“They were acting suspiciously so the security forces turned on their siren and blue lights and tried to intercept the two. Immediately a shot was fired from one of the boats towards the security forces while another started leaving, heading in the direction of southern Philippines,” he said during a press conference here today.
Security forces are on the alert after Indonesia issued a warning about raiders from southern Philippines seeking hostages to fund their militant activities.
In last night’s raid, police returned fire after the unknown boatmen fired. A brief gunfire exchange ensued that left two of the suspected kidnap-for-ransom raiders dead while the other boat with an uncertain number of people aboard fled under cover of darkness.
The first deceased was found in the pump boat while the second bullet-riddled body was retrieved from the sea later. A rifle and two bullets found in the boat have been seized.
Malaysian security forces were unhurt in the incident.
No identifying documents were found on the two dead.
Omar believes the dup were part of a scouting party, possibly looking for potential kidnap victims or other criminal activity.
“If they were fishermen, they won’t have firearms on them. We also didn’t find smuggled goods on board so they’re likely either spotters looking for victims to kidnap or militants looking for violence. We are looking into a few possibilities.
“They are estimated to be between 30 to 40 years old. We have taken their fingerprints for identification. The pump boat they were on did not have any registration number. We believe the two suspects and the other boat were attempting some crime when we came across them,” he said.
When asked whether this group was among those referred about in a notice issued by the Indonesian consulate here warning of a kidnapping risk, Omar said it was hard to find a link.
“It’s hard to link. It could just be a coincidence,” he said.
The letter which has been circulating here said three Abu Sayyaf groups were reported to have moved into the waters of eastern Sabah on August 30, with the intention to kidnap by targeting several ships, namely Kapal Batubara, Kapal Tanker, Nelayan Kapal Lengkong and Kapal Tarik Udang.
The letter stated several places or regions targeted by the terrorists, namely Bakongan, Bahala, Sandakan, Mamiang, Tambisan and Taganak.
“We want to remind people that our security forces are always ready and the lookout for intrusions and other cross border crime. Our patrol boats are always vigilant to ensure our coast is safe and under control,” he said.
Eastern Sabah Security Commander Datuk Hazani Ghazali held a separate press conference in Lahad Datu on the incident.