Malaysia moves for Philippine anti-terror alliance

Tulay mosque in the southern Philippine island of Sulu. Source: Flickr

Malaysia has called for closer ties with the Philippines to tackle terror threats.

Intelligence reports apparently suggest Islamic State (IS) militants were trying to unite Islamist militants in the region, including the Abu Sayyaf terror group in the Philippines, to establish an IS movement in Southeast Asia.

Philippine authorities claim to have arrested two Abu Sayyaf operatives said to be behind the kidnapping of two Malaysians from a seafood restaurant in the state of Sabah in Borneo and the beheading of the male captive, Bernard Then.

Malaysian police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, wants the two militants extradited to face trial in Malaysia.

Bernard Then, 39, was abducted from the restaurant, along with the manager, Thien Nyuk Fun. The 50-year-old female manager was freed after a ransom was paid but Bernard Then was beheaded after negotiations failed.

The murder appears to have strengthened Kuala Lumpur’s determination to fight the groups.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said cooperation with the Philippines, where the Abu Sayyaf is based, must be deepened to expel the group from its stronghold in the island of Jolo in the southern Philippines.

Hishammuddin said: “Even though we have a very good working relation bilaterally with the Philippines, it needs to be strengthened because of the threat the world is facing recently in Paris and other parts of the world.”

He said the immediate threat came from the IS declaration of support for Abu Sayyaf and plans to build a caliphate in the Sulu Sea.

Since last April Kuala Lumpur has been hunting three suspected Malaysian militants said to be working with Abu Sayyaf.

All three have been on Malaysia’s wanted list since April last year.

Led by former university lecturer Dr Mahmud Ahmad, also known as Abu Handzalah, they are said to be trying to build a Southeast Asian faction of the Islamic State with extremist organisations like the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah.

In November the Malaysian police said it received unconfirmed reports of meetings in Sulu between Islamic State militants and Abu Sayyaf.

Abu Sayyaf is mainly associated with kidnapping civilians for ransom. Some are believed to be members of a clandestine society called the Knights of the Right Keepers that fought for the Sulu sultanate.

Its members are among those facing trial for an attack on Malaysian Lahad Datu, in Sabah on Borneo, two years ago.

Malaysia stepped up security along the eastern coast of Sabah after the attack but has been unable to prevent further attacks by Abu Sayyaf to seize hostages.

Two offshore naval bases have been opened and the capabilities of Lahad Datu airport have been upgraded.

Kuala Lumpur has also moved its fighter jets from Butterworth on the Andaman coast to Labuan, an island near Sahah.

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