ZAMBOANGA CITY – Suspected Filipino gunmen intruded into Sabah near the Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi and seized nine fishermen, but freed all of them after learning they were Muslims, reports said Thursday.
The gunmen, numbering about 10, posed as fishermen and hijacked a boat off Semporna town and used it to seize other fishermen.
Malaysian authorities have blamed Filipino pirates in the daring intrusion this week despite tight security in the areas surrounding Sabah.
The New Straits Times quoted Deputy Superintendent Mohd Firdaus Francis Abdullah, the district police chief, as saying the gunmen told the fishermen that they would be brought to the southern Philippines, but released them after learning they are Muslims.
The gunmen spoke in Tausug, a dialect used in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu.
“When the gunmen asked the fishermen what their religion was, the fishermen claimed they were Muslims. The armed group then decided to turn back and when they saw another fishing boat, the fishermen were asked to jump into the sea,” the police official said, adding the armed men left the area while the fishermen swam to the other boat before being taken to the mainland where they lodged a police report.
Datuk Mohammad Mentek, the Eastern Sabah Security Command Director-General, said the gunmen had nothing to do with forces of the Sulu Sultanate which intruded Sabah this year and clashed with Malaysian forces.
“We believe the group has nothing to do with the intrusion by gunmen from Sulu. They are just pirates,” he told the New Straits Times.
It was not immediately known whether the gunmen were members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, blamed for past kidnappings in Sabah. AL JACINTO