SEMPORNA: On March 2, 2013, Special Branch officer Insp Mohd Hasnal Jamil entered the notorious water village of Simunul, Semporna, with a group of about 60 men to hunt down Sulu gunmen following a tip-off that they were hiding there.
He was not to know that it would turn out to be a nightmare for him. He was shot and hacked with a sharp object – but lived to tell the tale.
The search operation turned into a pitched battle when the gunmen opened fire on the Malaysian forces.
“We announced that we were police and we asked those inside the house to cooperate with us. They answered with continuous gunfire,” said Insp Hasnal.
He said he ducked for cover behind a nearby house, but a bullet hit him in the abdomen.
“The bullet pierced through the wooden planks and hit me on the left side of my abdomen. I couldn’t see what was happening in front of me because it was dark. The only thing I could make out were flashes of light from the shots fired,” he said.
“I lay face down on the ground to avoid getting hit again. It was then that I was set upon by a gunman and my head was hacked three times with a sharp object. When the blade hit me, I felt blood oozing down my face.”
Despite his injuries, Insp Hasnal stood up to face his attacker.
“I raised my hand in self-defence and was hacked another three times. He kept on attacking even when I fought back.
“Seeing another injured officer run into a house where some of our forces were seeking cover, I turned to follow him and left my attacker behind,” he said.
Only upon entering the house did Insp Hasnal realise the extent of his injuries.
“During the fight, I did not notice that my hands had been hacked. Kebas dah masa tu (I did not feel anything then),” he said.
Insp Hasnal and the other officers held out in the house for hours waiting for back-up.
“The pain was terrible. I felt like I was dying. The wounds were open and I had a small rag to cover it. By the next day, the blood had dried and flies were gathering around it,” he said.
Insp Hasnal added that he was awake throughout the entire 22-hour ordeal until the policemen were rescued the next day at 5.30pm by VAT69 commandos and Special Operations forces.
“An officer who was with me in the house told us that help was coming, but I was not sure how long it would take,” he said.
“I had to strengthen my resolve. Every hour or so, I had to fight from blacking out. We tried to forget the pain. We talked among each other and thought about other things. If I kept thinking about dying, then I would have died.”
Insp Hasnal survived the ordeal with a bullet wound in the abdomen and two shots to his hand. He also had six hack wounds on his skull and hand. One of the bones near his wrist was hacked, and veins on the palm of his hand were severed.
“I was not aware that I had been shot in the hand until later,” said Insp Hasnal, who can now carry on his duties, except for limited function of his right hand.
“If you are not up for it, then it is best not to take up policing work. As long as we are serving our country, we must do what is needed. If I am asked to return for such a mission, I will go,” he said.
The next few days, Malaysians were shocked and outraged to discover that when the bodies of three officers were found, they were badly mutilated.
Villagers of the notorious Kampung Simunul were not aware of the danger that had invaded their village.
“At first, we thought they were good people, people who observed their prayers,” said a 50-year-old Bajau villager who wished to be known as Jamboi.
It was only during the shootout with police officers on March 2 that villagers were made aware that their new neighbours were not what they seemed.
“It had nothing to do with us. They were not from here,” said an ethnic Suluk-Sungei fisherman Didy Omar.
Didy felt that the branding of “notoriety” of the village was not fair as the attack was carried out by people who came to the village.
“We are victims, too,” said the 31-year-old father of nine, referring to plans for the water village to be demolished as part of measures to strengthen Sabah’s east coast against intrusions.
Didy fled the village with his family and only returned about a week later when things started to improve.
Walking out of the water village into Semporna town, one can’t help but wonder about the future of the hundreds of families in Simunul, and whether the aftermath of March 2013 will continue to affect their lives even after peace is restored.
Wounds yet to heal