There are two rivals claiming the so-called Sulu throne, and one of them is not an internal security threat.
THE Telipok Filipino refugee settlement, about 25km from Kota Kinabalu, is a black area.
It is known to harbour criminals, some of whom are drug dealers.
The settlement was built in the 1970s for Muslim refugees fleeing southern Philippines during the Moro National Liberation Front war against Manila.
On Feb 13, a massive pre-dawn operation was carried out in the settlement. Armoured personnel carriers entered the settlement as early as 3am.
“The new Sabah chief of police is a no-nonsense cop. He wanted to conduct an operation where angels fear to tread,” said a veteran journalist, referring to Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun, who was appointed to the post on Jan 4.
Comm Abdul Rashid, according to a news report in The Star, once posed as low-ranking personnel in an intelligence-gathering operation during the Tanduo intrusion.
During talks with the intruders who landed in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu, Sabah in February 2013, the then Federal Internal Security and Public Order director in Bukit Aman donned the uniform of a sergeant.
After the intrusion, Comm Abdul Rashid was posted to the newly set-up Eastern Sabah Security Command before eventually becoming its commander in April 2013.
In the Telipok raid, six people, believed to be informers of cross-border criminals, were among 520 people arrested.
The six aged from 19 to 59, who were investigated under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, were believed to be involved in Royal Sulu Force activities.
They allegedly had links to Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram, a self-styled Sulu Sultan living in Jolo, southern Philippines. Some of them had panglima (commander) titles allegedly issued by Sultan Muedzulail.
In Kota Kinabalu on March 5, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi dropped a bombshell.
Dr Ahmad Zahid, who is also Home Minister, said security threats posed by militant groups were no longer confined to Sabah’s east coast but have spread to the west coast areas (where Kota Kinabalu is located) as well.
These groups have appointed panglima at various districts around the state, he said, adding that Malaysian security forces are expanding their operations statewide to counter this threat.
The bombshell caused Sabahans to worry about their safety as security problems on the east coast of Sabah – cross-border kidnappings and intrusions – have spilled over to the west coast of Sabah.
They also worry about how it will affect tourism.
I explained that it might be a case of mistaken “royal” identity. To be specific, two different claimants to the Sulu throne are lumped together as one.
Those with knowledge of the two self-styled Sultan of Sulu, who play an active role in Sabah, know that these two claimants have different intentions. Many confuse these two families as one.
There’s Sultan Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram and there’s the family of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. Both are related and both are vying to be the recognised Sultan of Sulu.
I met Sultan Muedzul-Lail in Jolo in 2014.
He told me that he had panglima in his sultanate, which he claimed included Sabah.
He also said that he was claiming Sabah, but peacefully.
He was against the Tanduo intrusion led by the brother of self-styled Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
In Penampang, near Kota Kinabalu on Oct 30, 2014, two Sulu gunmen who were believed to be panglima linked to Sultan Muedzul-Lail were killed in a shootout where police locked down four blocks of shophouses.
During the 4pm incident, the men who were sitting at the front of a four-wheel-drive vehicle were killed by balaclava-clad policemen. The two gunmen were believed to be robbers.
“These people claiming to be panglima of Sultan Muedzul-Lail are criminal. They are involved in criminal activities.
“But they are not an internal security threat unlike the family of the late Sultan Jamalul,” several intelligence officers told me.
(Muedzul-Lail said he did not know the panglima involved in criminal activities who claimed to be his supporters. He said the role of his panglima was to preserve peace and harmony with the people of Sabah.)
The family of the late Sultan Jamalul hit the headlines when the crown prince Agbimuddin led some 200 followers in the occupation of Kg Tanduo.
The three Kiram brothers – Jamalul, Esmail (who succeeded him as Sultan) and Agbimuddin – are dead.
Their brother Phugdalun is now the self-styled Sultan of Sulu, one of the many claiming to be the real one.
Sultan Phugdalun is seeking a peaceful resolution to his family’s claim over Sabah.
If there are any armed attempts, it would come from Alinapiah @ Datu Piah, the brother of Sultan Phugdalun.
However, they do not yet have the funds to launch Tanduo Two.
Datu Amirbahar Hushin Kiram, the son of the late Esmail, is facing the death penalty for waging war against the King during the Tanduo intrusion to claim Sabah by force.
“Princess” Jacel Kiram, the daughter of the late Jamalul, is using the Sabah claim as her campaign promise in her bid to be a Senator in the Philippines polls in May.
That’s a quick-and-dirty note on the two Sultan of Sulu rivals active in Sabah.
Many make the mistake of lumping these two families together – and therefore amplifying their security threat to the state.