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LABUAN, Jan 23, 2015 :

Malaysia’s armed forces are strengthening their presence on Sabah’s east coast to counter illegal activities and the rising danger of militancy there, most recently from Islamic State (IS), said Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein. Hishammuddin is making his rounds of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) zone over the course of three days to inspect new assets and upgrades that are being deployed in the area, as well as to show the local population of the government’s commitment to defend them Although the situation was under control, Hishammuddin said preventative measures were needed to ensure that things did not get out of hand. “Regarding the threat of IS, we must pay attention to the expanding influence of this group as there are elements of Darul Islam militants in Sabah’s east coast. “Intelligence reports show that there are small groups of them intent on making the Sabah east coast a place to spread their ideologies which are in line with IS. “Additionally, there are armed groups from southern Philippines, such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Abu Sayyaf, which have stated openly their support for IS and declared their loyalty to IS,” said Hishammuddin. He said the MNLF, lead by Nur Misuari and the Sulu Royal Army, which is fighting to form an Islamic government in southern Philippines territories and wanted to claim Sabah, was also using the IS model. “This threat becomes more complex because there exists a network between Malaysian, Indonesian and Philippine militants to form a Southeast Asia IS group which is known as Katiban Nusantara Lid Daulah Islamiah. “This combination, if it happens, will increase their abilities in bomb-making, logistics, funding as well as weapons and warfare training,” said Hishammuddin. Referring to such threats and the Lahad Datu incident in 2012, he said it was necessary for the government and his ministry to take a multitude of initiatives in spite of the challenging economic situation as it would also have an effect on agriculture, tourism, production, education and administration, among others. He said such threats would affect not only Malaysia, but also Indonesia and the Philippines as well. “If we can work together and not duplicate our preparations, it will be a win-win situation,” he said, pointing out that leveraging on its relationships with Indonesia and Philippines would overcome Malaysia’s current economic shortcomings. He pointed out that although the recent budget cuts did not bite into development expenditures, Malaysia would find creative solutions to minimise the cost of upgrading its defences. Among the steps to be taken include using decommissioned oil rigs as offshore bases and using helicopters from Brunei and arming them with Gatling guns to defend Sabah and Brunei. Hishammuddin said he was also meeting local leaders as it was important for them to understand that the efforts being undertaken were for their benefit and required their cooperation.

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