Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tortured, Beheaded and Mutilated

SEMPORNA: Reports reaching The Borneo Insider suggest that at least three of the policemen killed in Semporna after clashes with an armed group, were tortured and their bodies mutilated. One was also beheaded.

However, the bodies of three others, who were believed to have died after being hit by the crossfire, were left untouched.

A group of 19 policemen, who were in the raiding party at Simunul on Saturday night, who were initially reported “missing” and then “trapped” was probably held hostage by the gunmen at several houses in the area.

They were said to have been relieved of their guns as well as hand phones. This group too was left unharmed, though at least one of them suffered wounds, probably in the Saturday night shoot-out.

But police are not willing to confirm anything, especially the torture and mutilation of the three policemen, except say that the 19 others who were initially “trapped” had been released unharmed.

On Saturday, armed intruders were initially spotted at Lorong 4 and Lorong 5 in Simunul, a cluster of water villages, comprising mainly Suluk and Tausug people, with or without Malaysian documents.

Police were called in and about 50 policemen were said to have walked into an ambush where a shootout also took place.

On Sunday, police said six policemen and six armed men were killed in the shootout.

On Monday, the bodies of three of the gunmen were still seen at various places in Simunul while there was no sight of the other three bodies.

It was only after 1.00pm Monday that some 30 residents of Kampung Simunul took the initiative to remove the bodies of the three intruders and handed it over to the authorities.

Village headman Ramli Saraman said they had to remove the bodies because the stench had become unbearable.

Ramli advised the villagers not to believe rumours spread by irresponsible people because they could worsen the situation.

“I was told by villagers that the intruders will burn down Simunul but I told them not to believe as I keep in touch with the police.”

He said villagers are not compelled to evacuate their homes because it is their right as individuals adding peace has returned to the kampung.

Later, when met by reporters, some Simunul villagers sad they were horrified on hearing that one of six dead police personnel was beheaded and two others were tortured.

“It is against our religion to behead anyone. It is terrible, it’s cruel,’’ said fisherman Azmi who has been living close to Lorong 5, Simunul where the shooting began.

“We are Suluks living here for more than 50 years. They (armed men) are bad people ,’’ said a woman who was referring to the gunmen.

Their sentiments were shared by other villagers who claimed that they have also heard that one of the gunmen had recorded the beheading on his mobile phone and had sent a clip to the police.

However, no confirmation was available on the phone clip or the torture of the three who had gone with a team of 56 to check out information that Sulu Sultan sympathisers had stored weapons in one of the stilt houses.

Police sources said that as they approached a house at about 7pm, shooting broke out with the gunmen in a house at lorong 5 of the sprawling seaside squatter settlement of over 500 houses.

At least, 19 of the police personnel were trapped for 48-hours till about 6.30pm on Sunday when a strike force painstakingly concluded a house-to-house search for snipers, booby traps and possible bombs strapped to the dead bodies.

Police declared the Simunul incident as resolved at 9pm on Sunday and announced that all their policemen were accounted for with six of their men dead and six gunmen killed.

As far as the villagers are concerned, this is the first time they have heard of a beheading and Semporna district officer Abdul Mohd Ibnu Abdul Kadir concurred with it.

“It is their culture,’’ said Mohd Ibnu when asked if revenge could be behind the beheading.

Three of the bodies of the six killed gunmen were left lying – one in a boat, one on the walkway and the third on a veranda – at the village until 1pm yesterday (Monday) when religious department officers took them away for burial at an undisclosed location.

Several villagers claimed that they recognised one of the dead gunmen to be a councillor of Pulau Sitangkai in southern Philippines who frequents the village to stay with relatives, while the other two looked like locals living with them.

“I am quite sure he is a councillor,’’ said one of the villagers who added that they had not seen the three remaining bodies of the gunmen.

They said police had also arrested a Ustaz and another local Suluk living along Lorong Lima  for alleged links to the gunmen, several of whom reportedly had been in the village in early February.

Police are still hunting for members of the group which might have slipped out of Simunul as initial reports indicated there about dozen or more in the group at the village.

The plank floor and floors of several houses were splattered with blood close to where the bodies were left and no uniformed security personnel were seen in the areas yesterday as hundreds of families packed their household goods, including furniture, televisions and fridges and bolted to safety.

The villagers said that they were scared to return, and were moving to live with relatives as they were unsure if the place will be safe again.

Although the villagers, who were mostly Suluks who fled the Moro civil war in southern Philippines in the 1970s and had  settled in Simunul which included a refugee settlement of the UNHCR, they have maintained close family across the border.

In afternoon, Semporna town was deserted again from 1.30pm when businesses and shops pulled down the shutters as police were seen rushing Kg Salimbangun not far from Kg Simunul.

One villager claimed shots were heard around 3.30pm and the remaining villagers left the area.

Security forces rushed to take up defensive positions at strategic locations in town, especially the Marine Police and district Police buildings.

Later in Lahad Datu, Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar categorically denied that one of the policemen who perished in Simunul had been beheaded.

“We have seen some pictures but I have not seen the police report yet,” he said, and declined to comment further.

He also denied rumours of a ‘possible traitor’ among the security forces.

“No, it is not true,” he said when asked to clarify on the detaining of a member of the security forces for suspicion in leaking information to the enemies.

He however described it as a challenge for the Royal Malaysian of Police.

“And when things like this happen, more untrue stories will spill out. I believe it is just another way to demoralise the police force, but we believe that we are not easily fooled,” he said.

By Alexander Chen