IN a move that demonstrates the benefits of strong regional cooperation on security issues, Malaysian forces on Saturday killed a leader of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist gang and two of his cohorts in a foiled kidnap attempt in Lahad Datu, Malaysia.
Abu Sayyaf commander Abraham Hamid had led the kidnapping of several foreigners from a tourist resort in Mindanao last year, including two Canadian hostages that were later beheaded after demands for millions of dollars were not met.
“The death of Hamid is a big blow to the [Abu Sayyaf] as it neutralized one of the notorious bandits and will degrade their capability for spotting and kidnapping victims in the future,” said Maj. Filemon Tan, regional military spokesman for the Philippines.
Tan said Hamid had also been involved in the kidnapping of four Indonesian crewmen in April.
Two other fighters were killed alongside Hamid in the shootout with Malaysian police in Lahad Datu in eastern Sabah, while Sabah security forces have arrested two others, Tan said.
Malasian Prime Minister Najib Razak, meanwhile, praised his security forces and said his country would cooperate with the Philippines to fight the recurring kidnappings.
In November, the Philippines agreed to allow Malaysia and Indonesia to carry out hot pursuit operations into its territorial waters as the three countries sought to deal more decisively with the kidnapping and piracy.
The agreement was announced by Najib after a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte, who visited Malaysia last month.
“When we reach their waters, they have allowed us to keep chasing these kidnap-for-ransom groups,” Najib said at the time.
Earlier, the President had also come to an agreement with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on strengthening border cooperation.
The Abu Sayyaf bandits, who have gone on a lucrative kidnapping spree in recent years, have defied more than a decade of military operations.
In fact, the Abu Sayyaf have managed to survive recurring military offensives over the years because of the huge ransoms they have amassed and the support they draw from those living in their strongholds of Sulu and Basilan, who benefit from the abductions.
Clearly, efforts to go it alone in the battle against the bandits have not been enough to dismantle the kidnap-for-ransom cottage industry that the Abu Sayyaf have established over the year. Obtaining the help of our neighbors, who also suffer from the kidnapping menace, was the logical next step.
Sometime next year, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia will begin joint training aimed at securing the Sulu Sea from rampant piracy.
The military training will take place in Indonesia’s Tarakan in North Kalimantan, Malaysia’s Tawau in Sabah, where Lahad Datu is located, and the Philippines’ Bongao Island.
Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said the three training locations would later become outposts for a joint task force assigned to help secure Sulu waters.
The regional initiative is a step forward, and one that ought to strengthen the country’s own military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf bandits. We look forward to the eventual eradication of these lawless elements, who have for far too long held, not just their victims, but also the country itself hostage.