Thirty years ago, a soldier armed with an assault rifle ran amok in Kuala Lumpur. The case created an urban legend linking the rampage to a rumour against a Sultan that has never been properly addressed until now. A book based on interviews with key figures involved in the case shines a light on what really happened.
ON Oct 17, 1987, Adam Jaafar, a 23-year-old soldier with the rank of Prebet, stole an M16 rifle and a motorcycle from his army camp in Ipoh.
The army Ranger Regiment sharpshooter travelled to Kuala Lumpur at a time when political tension was high. The next night, he wrote a message on his hotel room mirror: “A damned night for Adam. Mission: to kill or be killed.”
He left his hotel and went on a shooting spree in the city’s Chow Kit area that left one person dead from a bullet ricochet and several others wounded.
Prebet Adam shot at cars and at a petrol station fuel tank which burst into flames. He eventually surrendered and at his trial, his lawyer argued a defence of temporary insanity.
The case gave rise to one of Malaysia’s most enduring urban legends – that his rampage was allegedly an act of revenge for the death of his younger brother at the hands of the then Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Rumours went around back then that Adam’s brother was supposedly a golf caddy who had laughed when Sultan Iskandar Ibni Almarhum Sultan Ismail of Johor missed a shot.
The late Sultan had supposedly hit Adam’s brother on the head with a golf club and the caddy died, according to the rumour.
It’s been three decades but the urban legend still survives, spread at first by word of mouth, then on the Internet.
Google the case and one will get a long list of results drawn from blog entries and Facebook comments, with some insisting it is true.
The urban legend on what drove Adam to run amok was raised at a forum on Monday night to discuss a book written about the case.
“It’s true Prebet Adam has a younger sibling who died, but it was a sister, who died in a fire when they were children.
“Prebet Adam did not have any sibling who died at a golf course,” said Syahril A. Kadir, the author.
His book, Konfesi Prebet Adam, was published last year by DuBook Press Sdn Bhd. It was followed by an English translation, “Amok at Chow Kit”, last month.
The book is based on interviews with key figures in the case. It includes first person accounts by Adam himself, his lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and Leftenan Jeneral (R) Datuk Abdul Ghani Abdullah, the military officer who managed to persuade Adam to surrender.
Syahril, Shafee and Abdul Ghani were present at the forum but notably absent was Adam himself.
Copies of various documents are also in the book. Most striking is a signed statutory declaration by Adam in which he denied having a sibling who worked as a caddy in a golf club and who was apparently hit by Sultan Iskandar.
If the late Sultan of Johor had nothing to do with triggering Adam’s rampage, what did?
The answer lies in Adam’s traumatic childhood and abuse he later suffered in the army camp which drove him over the edge.
Adam grew up in extreme poverty. And when he was 11, he witnessed the death of his six-year-old sister Azimah during a fire that razed their squatter home in Simpang Lelong, Penang.
“She was just a few steps away from us, when suddenly the roof gave in and fell heavily on her small body,” Adam recounted to Syahril in the book.
“Azimah was found by the firemen underneath all the rubble in a devastating condition.
“One of her arms and legs were torn from her body. I could not bear to talk about the rest of her remains. My heart hurts at the thought of the pain my sister must have felt,” Adam added.
He suffered a head injury when a beam fell on him during the fire. Earlier in his teens, he suffered a wound to his head when he got into a fight in which he got hacked with a machete that left him with a three-inch scar.
Being accepted into the army brought the promise of a better future for the depressed young man.
Adam was desperate for a life of dignity but his joy over being in the army was shortlived. Having spent some time in the reserve army, Adam expected some ragging by seniors. But he did not expect the sadistic brutality they would resort to.
“My hands got burn marks from being treated as a human ashtray. I was forced to lick the bottom of a slipper like a dog and drink water mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, belacan, curry and sugar,” he recalled.
Some of his seniors would also bring their civilian friends to witness it.
He was beaten up regularly. The last straw was when his tormentors forced him to perform oral sex on one of the soldiers.
During Adam’s trial, psychiatrist Tan Sri Dr M. Mahadevan, who would examine Adam and testify in court during his three-year trial between 1988 and 1990, explained how Adam’s childhood trauma, head injuries and brutal abuse in camp had affected his mental state.
Justice Datuk Seri Shaik Daud Md Ismail in his verdict ruled that Adam was not of sound mind when he committed the shooting.
He ordered Adam to be sent for treatment at a mental hospital where he was kept for close to 10 years.
The former soldier insists that he is not seeking public sympathy by telling his life story.
What he hopes is to dispel the urban legend, clear the names of those unfairly implicated and apologise to the kin and family of the late Che Soh Che Mahmud, the young man he accidentally killed during his rampage.
“I apologise from the bottom of my heart for what had happened. I swear by the name of Allah, I never intended to shoot him.”
He has also forgiven his abusers in the army, who were subsequently tried by a court martial, found guilty, and sentenced to prison.
“To the officers who demeaned and abused me when I was in camp, I forgive them and everything they had done.
“I just hope they realise that they can do whatever it takes to produce strong and excellent soldiers, but never deny them their dignity, love and pride they have in beloved Malaysia,” said Adam.
The men behind Prebet Adam’s freedom
Capturing the scene 30 years ago
Free but still paying for the dark moment