Malaysia ends maritime curfew in Eastern Sabah Security Zone

Malaysia will today end an extended maritime travel curfew in seven districts in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZone). The

Malaysias maritime police in the Sulu Sea

Photo: AP Photo

Malaysia will today end an extended maritime travel curfew in seven districts in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZone).

The ESSZone is a security zone in the state of Sabah that was designated in 2013 following a violent clash in Lahad Datu. The curfew period was enacted because Abu Sayyaf, an internationally-recognised jihadist militant and pirate group, had been trying to infiltrate ESSZone waters to carry out trans-border crimes, such as kidnappings and beheadings. Due to the group’s persistent threat, Eastern Sabah has been under curfew since mid-2019.

Eastern Sabah Security Command, the main enforcement body for the ESSZone, has been conducting patrols to look for 18 Abu Sayyaf terrorists. The Philippines has also been leading counterterrorism measures against Abu Sayyaf; it recently expanded police authority and the legal definition of terrorism in a controversial security bill. The combined efforts of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have led to a decline in kidnappings in the ESSZone.

Still, intelligence reports from May 2020 continue to warn of the threat of Abu Sayyaf in Sabah. Given the curfew’s success so far, Sabah will likely remain under lockdown for the rest of the year. As kidnappings become more difficult and less lucrative, Abu Sayyaf seems to be shifting to drug smuggling, which will require Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines to devise new financial initiatives to prevent the group’s success.

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