A massive hunt is underway on both sides of the Malaysia-Philippines sea border for gunmen who raided a popular seafood restaurant and brazenly abducted the restaurant manager and a customer.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) advised that gunmen “reportedly entered a local seaside restaurant near Sandakan in eastern Sabah and abducted the manager and one customer”. DFAT stressed that it continues to advise Australians “to reconsider their need to travel to the coastal region of eastern Sabah, including islands, dive sites and associated tourist facilities, due to the high threat of kidnapping”.
“Australians should exercise normal security precautions in Malaysia overall,” DFAT added.
A combined operation by Malaysian security forces and their Filipino counterparts is underway, the Straits Times reports, with police combing islands for the gunmen who snatched Ocean King Seafood Restaurant manager Thien Nyuk Fun, 50 (female), and Sarawakian engineer Bernard Then Ted Fen, 39 (male), during the raid on Thursday evening.
The kidnappers are believed to be linked to the fanatical Islamist Abu Sayyaf Group, based in the southern Philippines.
A graphic animated reconstruction of the raid is being carried on YouTube:
Similar attacks and abductions, many involving tourists, have been carried out in the region before. In April 2014, a foreign tourist and a local employee were kidnapped from the Singamata Reef Resort in eastern Sabah.
In November 2013, two foreign tourists were attacked in their room at the Sipadan Pom Pom Resort, off the coast of eastern Sabah. A male tourist was murdered in the attack and his wife was kidnapped and held captive for many months.
DFAT says these incidents highlight the ongoing risk of violent crime, including kidnapping, in eastern Sabah by groups based in the southern Philippines.
Australian National Security adds that the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) views kidnap-for-ransom and extortion ventures as profitable operational tactics.
“Kidnappings, in particular, have been a trademark of ASG since its creation and represent the main funding mechanism for the group.These activities help support members’ livelihood and provide resources for ASG’s terrorist activities, including its capacity to oppose military operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). ASG has also received funds from other Islamist terrorist organisations and enjoys support from elements of the local population of Jolo and Basilan.”
“Australians should avoid all travel to the coastal resorts of eastern Sabah, including islands, dive sites and associated tourist facilities, owing to the continuing high threat of kidnapping by militant groups based in the southern Philippines. The kidnapping threat is highest in the area between the towns of Sandakan and Tawau.
“The risk of kidnapping increases on the water and waterfront after nightfall. A 7pm to 5am curfew is in place (subject to fortnightly rollover) from three nautical miles (5.5 kilometres) from the coast.
“The kidnapping threat is highest in the area between the towns of Sandakan and Tawau owing to its proximity to the Sulu archipelago in the southern Philippines. Information indicates there is a continuing threat of attacks by armed insurgents in or around the coastal regions of eastern Sabah. There are recent indications that extremists may be in the advanced stages of planning to kidnap foreigners from locations in this vicinity.”
Written by Peter Needham