ZAMBOANGA CITY: Malaysian authorities have arrested 19 undocumented Filipinos who sneaked by boat into the oil-rich state of Sabah, reports on Thursday said.
The New Straits Times said members of the Malaysian armed forces intercepted the boat in Sabah carrying a group of men late on Tuesday night.
The Filipinos, whose identities were not immediately known, traveled to Sabah from the island of Taganak in Tawi-Tawi, it added.
The report said the illegal entrants were mostly natives of Sulu and are being investigated by the Eastern Sabah Security Command.
It was not immediately known if any of those arrested has links with the Abu Sayyaf Group or local Islamic State (IS) groups or all of them were just job seekers.
Taganak Island has been a regular jump-off point for human traffickers in Tawi-Tawi.
Philippine authorities, however, have failed to detect or stop Filipinos from illegally sneaking into Sabah despite the presence of the Philippine Coast Guard and Marines in the area.
Malaysia has tightened its security since May for fear that IS-inspired terrorists fighting Philippine security forces in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, may escape the government offensive and slip into Sabah.
The lookout alert also included Abu Sayyaf chief and local IS leader Isnilon Hapilon and Abdullah Maute, along with other commanders – Idang Susukan, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, Majan Sahidjuan and Salvador Muktadil – all implicated in cross-border kidnappings over the years.
The tight security was ordered by the Eastern Sabah Security Command under Datuk Wan Abdul Bari Abdul Khalid, who also appealed to Malaysian citizens to stay vigilant and report suspicious persons to authorities.
Hapilon and Maute were among a group of terrorist leaders who occupied Marawi on May 23 to put up an Islamic State province in the restive Mindanao region.
They were reportedly joined by Malaysian Mahmud bin Ahmad and other foreign bandits.