KUALA LUMPUR—Three crew members on a Malaysian fishing trawler have been kidnapped in waters where militants from the Abu Sayyaf group have previously taken hostages, a security official said on Sunday.
The incident is believed to have occurred late Saturday off Pom Pom Island, a popular scuba diving location in the eastern state of Sabah.
“The boat is Malaysian registered,” Wan Abdul Bari Abdul Khalid, head of Malaysia’s Eastern Sabah Security Command, said without specifying the nationality of the crew.
Authorities did not comment on whether they believed Abu Sayyaf were involved.
In May, the Abu Sayyaf released 14 Indonesian sailors who had been kidnapped in two high-seas raids, attacks that prompted Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to launch joint patrols.
In July, Malaysian police said five Malaysian tugboat crew were abducted by Abu Sayyaf off the coast of Sabah.
The Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of a few hundred Islamist militants, formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network, that has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings-for-ransom.
Although its leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, analysts say they are mainly focused on lucrative kidnappings.
In April and June the group beheaded two Canadian tourists after ransom demands were not met, and a Malaysian man was beheaded last year.
Malaysian security forces in Sabah have been on high alert and on the lookout for militants fleeing Mindanao after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the military in August to ramp up its offensive against the extremist group.
The New Straits Times on Sunday quoted Deputy Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying the abduction was staged by a gang of kidnappers that operates “near the southern Philippines, near Malaysian waters.”
“Although the authorities monitor the waters closely, this group moves under the radar,” he was quoted as saying.