ON Jan 1, 1975, some 100 men from the police force were grouped to form the elite Special Action Unit (Unit Tindakan Khas, or UTK, in Malay).
They were the best of the best – the strongest, toughest and bravest – specially hand-picked to carry out covert operations, take part in dangerous missions, and tackle any hostile situation.
The brainchild of then Inspector-General of Police Tun Hanif Omar, the UTK was formed to equip the Royal Malaysian Police with an elite squad should Malaysia fall victim to terror attacks.
At that time, the world was still very much in shock over what had happened in Munich during the 1972 Olympics, when 11 members of the Israeli team were taken hostage and later killed by a terror group known as Black September.
There were also concerns about activities of mushrooming radical groups and the emergence of terrorism in the Middle East, while in Asia, the Japanese Red Army (JRA), a communist militant organisation, was a cause of concern for the Malaysian police.
True enough, merely eight months after its formation, the UTK faced a baptism of fire: On Aug 5, 1975, five members of the JRA stormed the AIA building in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, and took 53 employees of the US and Swedish embassies hostage, threatening to kill them if demands – for their comrades imprisoned in Japan to be released – were not met. After four days, Malaysian authorities, with the UTK at the forefront, got the hostages released in exchange for JRA prisoners.
Over the past four decades, the UTK has been sent on countless covert missions. From armed robberies to kidnapping and hostage situations, these officers have seen it all and, more importantly, have managed to always take down the bad guys.
Today, 41 years on, the brave men and women – specifically, 36 officers and 336 personnel – serving the UTK remain Bukit Aman’s creme de la creme, says the unit’s commander, Senior Asst Commissioner Datuk Hazani Ghazali.
“We are a highly effective counter terrorist team with operatives who are sharp and efficient and with skills of international standard,” says SAC Hazani of his team.
The unit’s main task, he says, is to act against any terror threats, be they foreign or domestic, that involves Malaysian interests. It is also responsible for conducting covert operations, fighting insurgencies in urban areas, and forming strike teams to neutralise threats, as well as providing close escort services for VIPs and assisting other branches of the police to fight crime.
“The UTK is also facing a different set of challenges now, and that is unconventional warfare. That’s why my men are now being trained in additional areas of expertise, such as close quarter battle (ie, hand-to-hand combat), and fighting in built-up areas, so that they are better prepared for new challenges,” he says.
With growing threats to national security due to drugs and arms smuggling and human trafficking, there is a need to double this elite squad’s manpower to 700 men, says SAC Hazani, adding that despite the emergence of other specialised police units, the UTK is still relevant and remains a force to be reckoned with.
“We are the secret weapon of the police force. If other divisions cannot handle a situation or case, then the UTK will take over. When all other resources have been exhausted, we are the go-to unit to swoop in and settle any serious threat scenarios,” he stresses.
According to SAC Hazani, his team is so highly skilled now in close quarter battle that it takes only a small number of operatives – sometimes just two – to storm a house suspected of being used for criminal activity and “get the job done”.
“In fact, there have been cases when two men raided a house and took down five criminals,” he says, proud of his personnel’s skills, which are constantly honed through exercises.
Brush with death
SAC Hazani, 51, joined the UTK in 1989. His promotion to commander early last year is actually his third “come back” to the unit. Prior to his most recent return, he was in the pioneer group serving the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) and was put in charge of operations there.
(His other two stints outside the UTK was as a CID officer in Sabah and officer at the General Operations Force Northern Brigade in Pahang.) A man who has seen and experienced many incidents, SAC Hazani is rather reluctant to talk about what he has been through at first, but after much persuasion, he tells us about one operation that almost cost him his life.
It was in 1993 and the UTK had been called in to hunt down the notorious criminal P. Kalimuthu, better known as “Bentong Kali”.
“We had been on standby for three weeks, storming houses in different locations but could not find him.
“On June 29, we received an intelligence report stating that he had been seen entering a house in Medan Damansara (KL) at 5am. Bentong Kali had just committed a murder in Jalan Klang Lama before he went to the house,” SAC Hazani recalls.
At 5.45am that day, members from the elite force stormed the house where Bentong Kali and his people were hiding and a gun battle ensued. Two of Bentong Kali’s henchmen – S. Gunalan aka Billiard and T. Gunasegaran aka Raub Guna – were killed inside the house – but not before SAC Hazani had a close shave with death.
“During the exchange of fire, a bullet flew past just inches above my head. A little lower and I would have been dead,” he smiles, adding that it was one of the most dangerous missions in his career.
Bentong Kali was killed in the incident, bringing an end to nine years of criminal activity during which he was linked to the murder of 17 people.
So far, thanks to the excellent training these men go through – and a little bit of luck, of course! – there have been no fatalities among them in the line of duty, although injuries and sustaining gun shot wounds “come with the job”.
SAC Hazani is now charting the future of the UTK, aiming for them to join the ranks of other prominent elite forces such as the United States’ SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, Germany’s GSG 9, and Russia’s Special Rapid Res-ponse Unit in terms of skills and effectiveness.
“The plan is to expose them to the right training and equipment so that they are able to deal with current and future security threats. In the future, apart from advanced weapons to tackle urban warfare, the squad should also have its own assault dogs to assist our operations,” he says of his plans for the team.
Reflecting on his years in service, SAC Hazani says it has been an honour for him to be part of a unit that is seen by many as being in the vanguard of the nation’s security.
“I’m proud to be a member of the UTK and it is an honour to serve as commander. As I continue the efforts and legacies of the former commanders, I also hope to inject new ideas and expand the role and abilities of my teammates so that we can better serve and protect this country from any form of threats,” says SAC Hazani