Rumours fuelling fear


“RUMOURS apparently true. Bombs at KK mall,” a Sabahan WhatsApp-ed me on Saturday.

“Really? I’ll check,” I replied.

That someone was referring to the viral rumour that eight suicide bombers would attack eight popular places in Kota Kinabalu.

I wanted to reply “no such thing” as I knew that the viral rumour was just a rumour, but I thought I had better double-check, especially in the wake of the bloody Paris attacks.

I WhatsApped my colleagues in Kota Kinabalu the message that I had received.

“Chandra; nothing la,” my colleague replied, referring to Kota Kinabalu City police chief Asst Comm M. Chandra.

“I checked. That rumour is not true,” I WhatsApped the 50-year-old someone who sent me the bombings message.

“Okay ... my friends semua ­ketakutan (frightened) not going to malls,” she said.

“Honestly, dumb to listen to that rumour,” I said. I was rather irritated as the last few days Sabahans have shared the viral rumour message. Some believed it. I’ve a funny feeling that there are people out there who thrive on coffeeshop talk.

Three days before the near panic in Sabah over rumours of bombings in Kota Kinabalu, I received a WhatsApp message from a Sabahan Twitter friend who had been sending me top-class dope (information).

He attached an internal police intelligence report. It stated: Based on information received at around 10am on Nov 15 at Indanan Patikul in Jolo island, southern Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) met Islamic State and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The meeting chaired by an Abu Sayyaf commander Indang Susukan was attended by 14 Abu Sayyaf, IS and MNLF leaders from Sulu, Palawan and Tawi Tawi together with 50 ASG elements equipped with M16, pistols and bombs.

The intel report stated that Abu Sayyaf and IS had eight suicide bombers in Sabah and 10 in Kuala Lumpur. The suicide bombers had undergone military training in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. They had received orders from their leader to launch attacks and bombings.

“F6 or A1?” said my Twitter source.

(The alphabet is the reliability of the source and the number is the reliability of the information. A1 means the source and information are very reliable. F6 means the source is not reliable and the validity of the information cannot be determined.)

Later, I WhatsApped him, “Intel is it might happen. But it is also possibly F6. Let me double-check again.”

“It has gone viral,” he said.

Lagi orang Sabah gentar especially with the beheading (Sabahans will tremble especially after the beheading of Sarawakian Bernard Then by the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo on Nov 17),” I said.

The report went viral. Some ­mo­­dified it with specific targets in Kota Kinabalu and nearby towns.

“Latest info: Abu Sayyaf claimed they have planted 8 suicide bombers in Sabah and 10 in KL. As a precaution please advise family mem­bers to avoid crowded public places. 1) Imago, 2) 1Borneo, 3) Suria Sabah, 4) Magellan Sutera, 5) City Mall, 6) Megalong, 7) Servay Penam­pang and 8) Welcome Seafood Restaurant Asiacity.”

On Saturday, judging from my ­va­­rious WhatsApp groups, there was panic among Sabahans. They ­belie­ved that attacks were imminent. This fear was fuelled by the newspaper reports on the suicide bombers, which were shared on the messaging app.

For example, the front page of a Malay newspaper with the screaming headline “18 Pengebom Berani Mati” (18 Suicide Bombers).

Some even messaged that there were bombings at the malls in Kota Kinabalu. There was such a near-panic situation in Sabah’s capital that Kota Kinabalu city police chief Chandra had to issue an immediate denial that morning to calm the public.

“We strongly deny social media claims that Abu Sayyaf suicide ­bombers are targeting various locations in Kota Kinabalu City in particular and Sabah in general,” he said.

The denial helped to calm the situation. However, there were those who would rather be safe than sorry. They stayed at home. “KK tonight like a ghost town. Haunted by 8 bombers,” someone messaged in one of my WhatsApp groups.

On Sunday, The Star reported a statement by Sabah Police Commis­sioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman.

“It is information that we have received. I am not saying it is real or not real. Like all information, we investigate and verify. Not all information we receive is real,” he said.

“I personally do not think they (sleeper bombers) are here (Sabah).”

The “much ado over nothing” panic over the unreliable report on suicide bombers reminded me of an intel report that I received a few months ago. The report stated that there were about 100 armed men from southern Philippines who would enter Sabah on June 9, 2015, to claim Sabah.

There was a F6 marked on the report. It meant that the report was highly speculative. I called an intelligence source to validate.

He told me that an informer in Simunul island, southern Philip­pines, had a shock when he saw Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram escorted to his house in the island. It was shocking because Agbimud­din was confirmed dead.

The man informed his family in Lahad Datu, east coast of Sabah. Rumour then swirled that Agbimud­din (who led the Tanduo intrusion in 2013) would attack Sabah again. Someone lodged a report with the Special Branch.

The Special Branch investigated. It found that the informer actually saw Raja Muda Phugdal (who replaced the dead Agbimuddin as Raja Muda) being escorted for a function in Simunul island. He mistook Phugdal for Agbimuddin as the brothers looked the same.

The moral of the story is that we need to verify with sources before we believe information on a police intelligence report. On a daily basis, the police receive numerous reports on information that can be reliable or unreliable.

“Did you get the beheading video?” asked the same person, who told me that there were bombings in Kota Kinabalu.

I’ve grown tired of answering that question. No, it is not that of the Malaysian hostage. It is probably a South American drug cartel beheading video.

The victim doesn’t look like Bernard. And it was taken in a concrete room. In Jolo, the hostages were kept in a bamboo house.

Enough of believing half-baked rumours that rear their ugly heads.

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Opinion , Philip Golingai , columnist

   

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