‘Abu Sayyaf may be in disarray but still a threat’

KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR) – The notorious Abu Sayyaf group still poses a serious cross-border kidnapping threat in Sabah despite the elimination of a senior leader of the group earlier this week, said regional intelligence sources.

They said the death of Apo Mike @ Majan Sahidjuan, an Abu Sayyaf sub-commander, put a big dent in the group’s ability to penetrate Sabah waters to carry out kidnappings.

“Apo Mike was more familiar with eastern Sabah areas compared with remaining subcommanders.

“It will take some time for them to make a move into eastern Sabah waters (again),” one source said, adding that the group had also been losing key operatives who had acted as their ‘local’ pointers to lead them to targets in Sabah.

The sources also said that Apo Mike, who worked as a lorry driver in Sabah’s east coast Tawau before returning to the southern Philippines in the early 2000s, was among the last remaining sub-commanders capable of carrying out raids in Sabah.

They added that when he joined the group, he took up the name ‘Apo Mike’ that was used by a previously slain Abu Sayyaf leader.

The sources, who declined to name the remaining three sub-commanders, said they were part of the Abu Sayyaf group under the command of Hatib Sawadjaan based in the southern Philippines island of Jolo.

“The threat remains (although) the organised Abu Sayyaf is on the decline,” the sources said, pointing to the deaths of many key leaders eliminated by Philippines security forces over the past few years.

Lack of sponsors and poor returns from previous hostage payoffs also affected the group as they were unable to obtain the funds for powerful high-speed boats, the sources said.

Philippines security forces have been hunting down the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group.

The latest success was on January 21 with the release of four Indonesian hostages who were kidnapped in waters off Tambisan about a year ago.