DIGOS CITY – Nearly 40 people were taken into custody in less than 24 hours as of 8 a.m. Sunday as Malaysian security forces continued their sweep of suspected local supporters of the Sulu “royal army” in at least three Sabah areas.
The fresh wave of arrests had brought to about 120 the number of people taken into custody from various Sabah areas on suspicion of having links with the Sulu gunmen, the Malaysian police chief had confirmed.
A reporter for a Kota Kinabalu-based shortwave band radio station said the latest round of arrests took place in Kampung Pinggir Bakau in Semporna, which, along with Lahad Datu and Kunak, has been considered “red area” due to the alleged presence of the armed followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
Previously, Malaysian security forces only concentrated on a small area of Lahad Datu, specifically a portion of the resettlement area of Felda Sahabat, but had since widened the scope of their operation when Agbimuddin Kiram and his followers also launched strikes in other areas – killing a total of eight policemen and wounding several others.
On the side of what Malaysian authorities now call “terrorists,” 53 had allegedly been confirmed dead but only 13 bodies had so far been recovered.
The reporter, quoting unnamed Semporna police sources, said the police crackdown in Kampung Pinggir Bakau started at about 8 a.m. and lasted for about an hour. It was not clear, however, if the arrested men were Filipinos or locals but in Semporna, there are many Filipino communities.
He said the operating troops, who descended on the village, were from the Malaysian Royal Police’s Special Action Force (UTK) and described them as “clad in full battle gear.”
The reporter, whose name the Philippine Daily Inquirer had missed, said while some policemen, sporting automatic rifles, guarded the main road leading to the village, others stormed the houses and hauled several men from there.
“They escorted more than 10 people out of the houses and loaded them on a police truck, which sped off towards an undetermined location,” the reporter, who covered the sweep, said in Melayu.
Earlier, Malaysian police Inspector General Ismail Omar told the same radio station that 27 people had been arrested by security forces off Tanjung Batu in Tawau around 10 a.m. Saturday.
Ismail said the men were on three boats when spotted by security forces and were immediately accosted and taken into custody.
He said the men “claimed to be fishermen out to go fishing but we wondered what they were doing within the operational area, which was supposed to be off-limits to civilians,” Ismail said.
He clarified though that no firearm had been found on any of the men.
“They are now being detained and questioned at the Lahad Datu police headquarters,” Ismail said.
He said the assault against Agbimuddin’s group was continuing, along with the efforts to curb local support for the “terrorists.”