Southern Philippine Islands
On September 23, a group of seven gunmen aboard two pump boats ambushed and seized three fishermen off the coast of East Sabah, in a sign of how the Islamic State (IS) and its affiliated networks continue to trouble the Southeast Asian region. The latest attack follows a surge in ambushes and kidnappings in the last two years along the Sulu Seas, which encompasses the waters around Indonesia, Malaysia’s eastern Sabah state and the Philippines, and has long been a hotspot for piracy and sea robbery. Although there was no claim of responsibility, the attackers are said to be members of an Abu Sayyaf splinter group affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) in Sulu province. It is believed the seven gunman, who were masked, boarded two fishing vessels around midday local time, and abducted three crew members.
For Abu Sayyaf, which has long been based on the remote and forested terrain along the southern Philippine islands, such attacks have traditionally been used as a fundraising tactic. The group is reported to have earned several million dollars from kidnappings, bombings and ambushes, often targeting foreigners. In certain instances, the group has beheaded hostages when ransom money was not paid. Notably, while previous incidents took place in darkness, which usually enabled the attackers to make a quick getaway, the latest incident occurred in broad daylight.