Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi with a picture showing the bodies of Filipino militants found after the airstrikes. – Photo by Saw Siow Feng
LAHAD DATU, March 6 – Thirteen bodies of the Royal Sulu Army have been found after the authorities launched air strikes at the 200-strong Sulu group hiding in a village here yesterday, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said today.
The defense minister showed the media two pictures of several corpses dressed in dark blue, lying facedown in a heap of dirt, saying that copies of the pictures would be distributed to the press later.
"This is a picture of a grave where the bodies were buried by the terrorists," said Ahmad Zahid, showing a picture of wooden planks placed over the ground.
He added that the forensic police were shot at this afternoon while they were looking at the bodies, but said that they were not wounded.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who was also at the press conference, stressed that the pictures showed the "reality on the ground."
Ahmad Zahid said that it was still unclear how the followers of the Sulu sultanate died, as the forensic police have yet to examine the bodies, but pointed out that one gunman was shot dead this morning.
"The mopping and searching operation that is being conducted at difficult terrain should not be taken lightly," he said.
Felda Sahabat here is about twice the size of Singapore with its 57 oil palm plantations spread across hilly terrain, connected through narrow, straight roads.
The Sulu gunmen have occupied Kampung Tanduo for almost a month, surviving clashes with the security forces in Lahad Datu, Semporna and Kunak that have left eight Malaysian policemen and some 20 Sulu Sultanate Royal Army dead.
Sultanate of Sulu Princess Jacel Kiram was reported by Philippine media this morning as saying that the crowned Prince of Sulu Rajah Agbimuddin Kiram and his group have survived yesterday's aerial assault and search operations.
Ahmad Zahid said yesterday that three F-18 and five Hawk aircraft were used in the assault against the militants camped out in Kampung Tanduo, besides sending in five battalions of soldiers together with the police force.
A battalion is estimated to number between 300 and 1,300 men, but the authorities can choose to send certain numbers to go to the ground, or put others on stand-by.
The authorities have refused to specify the number of men deployed to flush out the Sulu militants, citing the need to keep tactical strategies secret.
Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Ismail Omar said earlier today the security forces were carefully combing an area of four square kilometers in search of the Sulu Armed group.
Princess Jacel ― the daughter of the elderly Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, one of the nine claimants to the Sulu Sultanate ― said earlier today her uncle Agbimuddin was willing to release the four Malaysian hostages they claim to be holding captive, but wanted to do so in front of the international media and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Committee to prove they were unharmed.
After several clashes last weekend with the Malaysian police, the Sulu Royal Army claimed they had captured four Malaysians ― one policeman, two military personnel and a government official.
Their claims have yet to be verified.
Agbimuddin's group insists that Sabah is theirs as it had been granted to the Kiram family by the Brunei Sultan in the 17th century.
Sabah, however, joined Malaysia in 1963.
Malaysia reportedly pays an annual rental of RM5,300 to the Sulu sultanate on the basis of the its rights to the Borneo state.
with report from the Malaysian Insider