KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Masked gunmen stormed a coastal Malaysian resort, shot a policeman and kidnapped another then sped away in a boat toward the southern Philippines, where Muslim militants have carried out similar raids in the past, a security official said Sunday.
The latest kidnapping highlights persistent security threats in Malaysia’s Sabah state on Borneo Island and is believed to be spillover of violence from the southern Philippines, a region where separatist militants and kidnap gangs are active just a short boat ride away.
Eight gunmen wearing army fatigues barged into the Mabul Water Bungalow Resort late Saturday and ambushed marine police officers on guard there, said Abdul Rashid Haron, who heads the Eastern Sabah Security Command.
A policeman was killed in the shootout and the gunmen, who had their faces covered, fled on a boat with another officer, Abdul Rashid said, adding that the boat was seen heading toward the southern Philippines.
He said the gunmen may either have been planning to kidnap someone at the resort or were targeting marine police after recent increased security on the island helped to curb their activities.
“We don’t know their motive. Maybe they were retaliating because we have tightened security in the area. I cannot rule that out,” Abdul Rashid said.
It was the fourth kidnapping in Sabah since April. A Malaysian fish breeder and his Filipino worker were abducted by Filipino Abu Sayyaf militants from their farm last month and believed taken to the southern Philippines.
A Chinese fish farm manager, a Chinese tourist and a Filipino resort worker who were all kidnapped earlier this year have since been released.
The abductions have hampered tourism in Sabah, a popular destination for foreigners and a diving haven. Sabah’s government has announced a curfew and travel restrictions in high-risk areas.
The Abu Sayyaf, which operates on southern Philippine islands of Jolo and Basilan, has had links to international terrorist networks, including al-Qaida. A U.S.-backed Philippine military crackdown has weakened it considerably in recent years, with the remaining 300 fighters mostly focused on ransom kidnappings.