Are the eight men charged in Malaysia for the intrusion by followers of the sultan of Sulu into Sabah Filipinos or Malaysians?
After condemning on Thursday the filing of charges against the eight as “terroristic,” the Sulu sultanate on Friday disowned the suspects, saying they were not Filipinos but Malaysians.
Abraham Idjirani, spokesman for the sultanate, said the sultanate learned about the “fall guys” from a source in Sabah.
At least one of the eight arraigned at the Tawau High Court on Thursday admitted during the proceedings that he was paid to join the group from Sulu.
The Star newspaper of Malaysia identified the suspect as Holland (spelled “Holan” by Idjirani) Kalbi.
Speaking in court through a Badjao interpreter, Kalbi said he was asked by “someone” to join the group, but did not identify who it was. He also did not say how much he was paid to go with Agbimuddin’s group.
“I was just being foolish,” The Star quoted Kalbi as saying in court.
But Gani said Kalbi’s statement should not be recorded.
The judge reminded Kalbi not to say anything until he has a lawyer.
The SLA is providing legal representation to the eight accused.
Idjirani said Kalbi was one of Jamalul’s followers who were killed in the March 1 “massacre” in Tanduo village in Lahad Datu town.
Idjirani was referring to the police assault on Agbimuddin’s group in which 18, not 10, of Jamalul’s followers were killed.
Idjirani apologized for the earlier body count, which proved to be wrong, he said, because full information was not available at the time.
‘They are Filipinos’
But Syarulnizam Salleh, chair of the human rights subcommittee of the Sabah Lawyers Association (SLA), told the Inquirer by phone on Friday that the eight men charged with launching terroristic acts and waging war against Malaysian King Abdul Halim were Filipinos.
Salleh said he learned about the nationality of the eight men during his meeting with Malaysian Attorney General Gani Patail on Thursday night.
The SLA, however, said in a posting on its website that Malaysian authorities had arrested not only Filipinos but also Malaysians in the security operations to end the intrusion by followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
The Malaysian authorities have arrested 108 people suspected of links to the Sulu group led by Jamalul’s brother, Agbimuddin Kiram.
But they’re dead
Idjirani reiterated that Kalbi was one of the 18 “martyrs” of Tanduo.
“Now he is one of the eight accused. So what’s this?” Idjirani asked.
Another alleged follower of the Sulu sultanate charged on Wednesday and arraigned on Thursday was identified as Lin Mad Salleh.
But Idjirani said “Ling Mad Salli” (his own spelling) was also one of the 18 Tanduo “martyrs.”
“Have the Malaysians resurrected the two RSF men?” Idjirani asked, using the shorthand for the “Royal Security Forces” of the Sulu sultanate.
“Our basis for saying that they are not Filipinos is that our source from Sabah called us to say they are Malaysians. They are not Filipinos,” Idjirani said.
“To confirm this, they (Malaysian authorities) should divulge where they were caught. If they were caught outside Lahad Datu, they were [Malaysian] civilians,” he said.
“They were set up to make Filipinos afraid, because Malaysian security forces have become abusive because of their internal security act,” he added.
The eight alleged followers of Sultan Jamalul faced Judge P. Ravinthran of the Tawau High Court on Thursday to be arraigned of the charges brought by the Malaysian authorities against them the day before.
Kalbi, Salleh, Habil Suhaili and Timhar Hadir are accused of launching acts of terrorism in Sabah. They face life imprisonment on conviction.
Atik Hussein Abu Bakar and Basad H. Manuel are also accused of terrorism as well as waging war against the Malaysian king. If convicted, they will be sentenced to death.
Kadir Uyung and Lating Tiong are accused of harboring a terrorist group, and face life imprisonment. They were arrested on that charge in Tanjung Labian on March 4, a day before the Malaysian military launched air and ground operations to crush Agbimuddin’s group.
No plea was entered for the eight accused following an application by Attorney General Gani, who led the team of prosecutors.
The charges are nonbailable.
Gani told the court that though only two of the accused faced charges that carried the death penalty, the prosecution would see to it that all eight would have legal representation in the interest of human rights.
He said he had discussed legal representation for the accused with the SLA and the Bar Council of Malaysia.
Salleh of the SLA confirmed earlier information received by the Inquirer that some of the accused were placed in straitjackets.
Straitjackets for security
Gani applied to the court for the procedure and Justice Ravinthran granted his application “for security reasons,” according to a copy of the court proceedings obtained by the Inquirer.
Ravinthran subsequently ordered the trial of the eight accused to start on April 12.
Gani said some of the accused would be jointly tried while individual hearings would be held for others, as they were arrested at different places or time.
Of the eight accused, one is under 19 years old. Some are Badjao and others are Orang Suluk or Tausug.
In a statement issued Friday, the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur said it welcomed Gani’s assurance that the eight Filipinos would be given legal assistance.
The embassy and Salleh of the SLA said they were coordinating with each other for legal representation for the accused.
Mopping up operations
Mopping up operations continued in Lahad Datu Friday to clear the villages of Agbimuddin’s men.
Malaysian authorities said 68 members of Agbimuddin’s group had been killed in fighting since March 1.
But Idjirani said that by the sultanate’s reckoning, only 26 of the 235 members of Agbimuddin’s group had been killed. Four were wounded and 10 were arrested, he said.
Idjirani identified the 10 he earlier reported as killed in Tanduo as Kalbi, Salli, Ibrahim Suhudah, Junaidi Harain, Adulkader Jumaadil, Hawadi Jumaadil, Tar Undang, Sangkahan Ajan, and Datu and Mrs. Maharajah Sabandal.
He did not identify the eight others whose deaths in the police assault the sultanate learned about only later.
In addition to the 18 killed in Tanduo on March 1, Idjirani said four were killed during the air and artillery attacks on March 5, and two others were killed later because they shielded Agbimuddin from soldiers’ fire.
Idjirani said 36 other sultanate followers were detained at the Philippine Naval Station in Tawi-Tawi after being intercepted at sea while trying to return to the Philippines and charged in a local court two weeks ago.
Of the group that sailed to Lahad Datu on Feb. 9, only Agbimuddin and 161 followers of the sultanate remain, Idjirani said.—With a report from The Star/Asia News Network