The double attack made by Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) on Sipadan and Pandanan Island in 2001 were perhaps the wake up call for the Malaysian authorities to bolster its defence on its northern most border near to the war thorn Southern Philippines region. As a response to these incidents, the Malaysian Government has initiated Ops PASIR which mobilised all MAF branches to Sabah’s northern coast in order to protect the innocent civilians at the area.
Sabah’s northern coast was best known for various pirate attacks back in the 1980′s. Among those well known attacks was the September 25, 1984 incident which occur in Lahad Datu, Sabah and robbed the life of 11 innocent civilians. On the night of September 24, a tug boat was hijacked along with its three crews on board.
A Marine Police patrol boat, the PX 29 was informed of the incident and had sailed to Mataking Island to ambush the pirates. Nevertheless as the pirates have not shown up, PX 29 returned to Semporna to send in one of its crew on shore to undergone treatment for high fever.
At 1200H, PX 29 was warned that Lahad Datu was attacked by the same pirate who had hijacked the tug boat on the previous night. The pirates ,estimated to be around 26 individuals had came ashore and split into several group.The patrol boat was ordered to block the surrounding waters off Kunak.
One of the group has attack Lahad Datu’s police station and marine police base with grenade and RPG. The police returned fire with their GPMG. Two of the marine police boats, the PGR 8 and PLC 1 were also hit by RPGs. During the attack, two marine police were injured and two civilians were killed when the other group robbed the town’s Standard Chartered Bank.
In response to the attack, the RMN had sent two of its patrol craft, KD Badek and KD Kerambit while a single DHC-4A Caribou from Labuan AFB was deployed to provide air cover for the security forces on the look for the pirates. PX 29 was later joined by PX 16 and an ensuing gun fight occur between the fleeing pirates and the two police patrol boats off Mataking Island. PX 16 was attacked by two rounds of RPG fired by the pirates which injured one of the police on board. The pirates then withdrew to the island.
The two patrol boats were later joined by two smaller boat from Semporna and PZ 14 patrol craft. PZ 14 has disembarked police from General Field Force to sweep the island. When the operation ends, 6 pirates were dead, 4 of which were swept away by currents. In all eleven people were dead and a total of RM 200,000 of cash were taken away by the pirates during the attack.
Several more attacks occur in the coming years. The town of Semporna was attacked twice in 1996 one of which that occur in February had seen the Semporna police station was attacked by 10 to 20 pirates armed with M-16 assault rifles as well as RPG.
These incidents however could well be regarded as past history of Sabah. After passing a decade mark, Ops PASIR has shown positive results on curbing any pirate or terrorist incursion into Malaysia’s territory. Military personnel are now stationed at small islands such as Langkayan and Bakungan Kecil island which border the Philippines waters. In some of the islands, coastal radars were installed to give the security forces early warning on any possible threats coming from the opposing side.
Through the use of UAVs as well as MPA, aerial covers were conducted continuously all around the clock. Ground troops were supported by faster assault boat to match the pirates’ speed boats as well as being armed with powerful firepower. These boats were forward deployed at Berhala Island.
Ground unit will be rotated over a period of time. The current 10th Royal Malay Regiment (10 RAMD) will be relieved by the elite 9th Royal Malay Regiment (Para) in due time. RMN PASKAL special forces have been permanently deployed at Semporna. Even the Army’s GGK commando also maintain their presence. Nevertheless, despite the sharp decrease of pirate attacks, the MAF vigilant on these coast and islands will be maintained as there is still clear threats coming from Southern Philippines.
Last May, a Malaysian who was taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf militant was released after being held in captivity for more than year at Jolo Island, in Southern Philippines. Mohd Nazarrudin Saidin, who was conducting business on rare lizard was kidnapped by a group of 10 armed men in Indanan, Jolo pn May 8, 2011. His interpreter, Abdul Ghaffar Akkirulla was also taken away by the group.
Nazarrudin managed to slip away from the group thanks to the assistance of several villagers who had provide him with boat which brought him to the Malaysian waters off Sandakan, Sabah after harrowing the Sulu Sea for nine hours. With the help of 1Malaysia Putera Club, who had initiated several series of negotiation for his release, Nazarrudin was brought back to Kuala Lumpur to join his family.
There has been no ransom being paid for the release of Nazarrudin since he had managed to escape before the negotiations made could be finalized. Nazarrudin himself is not aware of the negotiations made for his release. Nevertheless, this has been his second attempt to escape the Abu Sayyaf group.
On the first attempt, he had managed to escape from the group after three months being held and had hid in a mangrove forest for more than a month before returning back to the group after running out of food and failing to find any way out.
While in captivity, he had been relocated six times in Jolo and several smaller islands nearby due to the presence of Philippines security forces in the area. Each time, he will be guraded by a group of 20 to 30 people equipped with weapon, basic necessity and 4 wheel drive vehicle.
Beside Nazarrudin, there is another Malaysian who is still being held by the Abu Sayyaf. Pang Chong Pong, a fish monger from Sarawak was kidnapped in Pondohan Lok Angki, Sitangkai at Tawi-Tawi Island on October last year. This has been confirmed by Nazarrudin when he met him after surrendering to Abu Sayyaf group during his failed attempt to escape last year. The armed group has asked for RM 3.7 million for the release of Pang.
The Malaysians however were separated by the militants and were not allowed to talk. Pang was reportedly suffers rib injuries at that time. He was kidnapped while he and his three other Philippines workers were conducting fish transaction at waters near the border.
In other development, Zulkifli Abdul Hir a.k.a Marwan, a Malaysian who was thought to be killed during an air attack on Abu Sayayf camp in February was believed to be still in hiding in an island near Jolo. He was protected by the militant group network and was given weapon and food while in hiding. There has been no bodies were found at the Abu Sayyaf camp attacked by PhilAF and DNA samples taken does not match with those of Marwan’s. Marwan was one of the three most wanted terrorist in South East Asia. The US Government has put a bounty of RM 15 million for the capture or death of Marwan.