U.S. warns of possible attack in Malaysia's Sabah

Police stepped up security after the United States Embassy in Malaysia warned on Friday that criminal and terrorist groups were planning attacks against foreigners in the Borneo island state of Sabah.

A "warden notice" posted on the embassy's website (http://malaysia.usembassy.gov/), dated Friday, said resorts located in isolated areas of eastern Sabah, a state bordering the southern Philippines, were of "present concern."

It identified areas of eastern Sabah including Semporna and the islands of Mabul and Sipadan, as well as travel to and from the area.

The warning said there were indications criminal and terrorist groups "are planning or intend acts violence against foreigners," notwithstanding the Malaysian government's ability to detect and prevent such attacks.

A Bajau Laut girl basks on her boat in her neighbourhood in Sulawesi Sea in the Malaysia's state of Sabah on the Borneo island February 17.

"Please avoid or use extreme caution in connection with any travel in these areas or locations," it said.

The state's island resorts are popular with tourists.

The warden notice said the Philippines-based, al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militant group had kidnapped foreigners in eastern Sabah in the past. Criminal elements were also responsible for kidnapping and piracy, it said.

Malaysia's deputy police chief, Ismail Omar, said his officers were taking all necessary steps.

"I have alerted all my officers in Sabah to boost security at all these places," he told Reuters.

A U.S. embassy spokesman in Kuala Lumpur said such statements were issued periodically and the latest warning was posted "to enable people to make informed decisions about their security."

The spokesman said there was a possibility the warning would be upgraded into an official travel advisory that would be issued by the U.S. State Department.

The Abu Sayyaf, known for kidnapping and beheading hostages, was nearly eliminated after the death of its founder and leader, Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, in the late 1990s.

It sprang back to life when about 20 Malaysian and Western tourists were kidnapped on Sipadan island in 2000. Analysts have said that proceeds from kidnappings may revive the small but deadly group.

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