KUALA LUMPUR, July 3 — The country’s security forces have admitted misreading the threat posed by Sulu gunmen when they intruded into Sabah in February, the New Straits Times (NST) reported today.
According to the paper, Armed Forces chief Gen Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin and Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar had admitted that the security forces were caught by suprise by the group of over 200 armed men.
The security forces had initially thought that the Sulu intruders were criminals and had then taken a soft tack, the paper reported the top security forces as saying.
“Our focus at that time was the looming general election and the threats posed by militant groups like the Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” NST quoted the two as saying at a talk yesterday.
The February 9 intrusion had happened just months before the country’s 13th general election last May.
The paper said the country’s security forces had only established the Sulu gunmen’s identity and intention a few days after they were sighted on Malaysian shores on Feb 12.
“We learnt this when the intruders had flown their flag to challenge the country’s sovereignty. Even then, we were optimistic of overpowering the 200-odd intruders given our superior logistics and strength.
“We had then concluded theirs was a suicide mission,” they said of the group from southern Philippines claiming to be from the Sultanate of Sulu.
On Feb 18, the then Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had appeared to under-estimate the strength of the Sulu gunmen who had on February 9 landed in Kampung Tanduo, a village along Sabah’s east coast.
“Fact: Most of the intruders old or malnourished. Wear sarongs/slippers..a few..hv arms,” Hishammuddin, now the Defence Minister, had wrote on Twitter.
But when the security forces starting losing their men in the conflict, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had handed out orders to Zulkifeli and then police chief Tan Sri Ismail Omar to move in on the Sulu gunmen.
This was after an emergency meeting on February 26 by the National Security Council, the paper reported Zulkifeli and Khalid as saying.
“However, following the unfortunate death of eight of our security members, Najib had put great pressure on us not to lose any more lives of our forces, which then led us to mobilise armoured personnel carriers from the peninsula,” they said.
On March 5, the government launched “Ops Daulat” to flush out and hunt down the Sulu gunmen after weeks of negotiation failed to bear fruit.
The Sulu intrusion has resulted in close to 80 deaths, with ten Malaysians being among the casualties - eight policemen and two soldiers.
Last Sunday, the government renamed “Ops Daulat” as “Ops Sanggah” in conjunction with the launch of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM), which is tasked with ensuring the security of Sabah’s east coast.
Yesterday, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told parliament that 30 people were charged in relation to the Sulu intrusion under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, with four of them being Malaysians.
The Sulu intrusion in February has raised concerns about the security along the country’s coastlines.