10 years on, the scars remain


Tense situation: A file photo showing Malaysian security forces firing a 81mm mortar during a clash with the armed intruders in Semporna.

KOTA KINABALU: A decade later, the scars of the Lahad Datu intrusion remain etched in the memories of the families of security personnel who lost their lives in the attack.

It all began on Feb 9, 2013, when a group of gunmen led by Agbimuddin Kiram, the brother of self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III attempted to “reclaim” their ancestral land and landed in Lahad Datu’s coastal Kampung Tanduo in batches.

By Feb 12, the villagers of Tanduo had fled their homes as news of the landing spread, shocking the nation.

On Feb 14, the government led by then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak initiated negotiations with what had been described as a group of “ragtag elderly gunmen” to avoid bloodshed.

On March 1, the gunmen opened fire at Malaysian commandos, killing two who tried to break through a blockade.

In the ensuing shootout, 12 Royal Sulu Army soldiers were killed.

Sulu gunmen opened up another front when they attacked six Malaysian policemen at Kampung Simunul in Semporna between March 1 and 3.

However, seven of the gunmen were killed in the mop-up operation in the coastal village of Semporna town.

The next day, on March 4, Malaysian security personnel launched an all-out war called Ops Daulat.

They carried out aerial bombing against the Sulu gunmen in Tanduo, killing about 13 militants.

In the ensuing ground mop-up, the intruders fled or were arrested.

In less than a week, Malaysian security forces had taken full control of Tanduo, recovering over 22 bodies of Sulu gunmen by March 11.

Agbimuddin and some of the intruders escaped following the final assault.

Some 30 intruders and their accomplices, including Amir Bahar Hushin Kiram, were eventually charged with various offences, including waging war against the King and treason. Some were sentenced to death and life imprisonment.

A Malaysian Special Branch policeman, Kpl Hassan Ali Basari, was also jailed for intentionally refraining from disclosing information on terrorist acts by the Sulu gunmen in Lahad Datu.

By the end of Ops Daulat on June 29, official statistics placed the total deaths from the intrusion at 72 – 56 intruders, 10 Malaysian security force personnel and six civilians.

On June 1 that year, Malaysia launched the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), an integrated security arrangement involving police, the armed forces and other agencies that was put in place to guard Sabah’s eastern borders from northern Kudat to south-eastern Tawau.

Over the last decade, threats from the Sulu groups had diminished althrough cross-border kidnappings by Jolo-based Abu Sayyaf groups continued till 2016.

Manila’s crackdown on the core group in Jolo helped quell the kidnapping gangs.

Malaysian police have also eliminated or captured many groups trying to slip into Sabah for refuge or to kidnap Malaysians or tourists for ransom.

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