KOTA KINABALU - A midnight boat ride across the Sulu Sea ended nearly eight months of captivity for marine police Konst Zakiah Aleip.
A team of Special Branch policemen in a high-powered speedboat picked Zakiah from the seaside township of Indanan in Jolo Island at 11pm on Friday.
They sped across the Sulu Sea and Zakiah tasted freedom in the east coast Sandakan town when they arrived there at about 7.30am yesterday.
Looking tired but smiling, Zakiah was brought to meet Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman at his house at Kampung Sungai Kayu about 15km from Sandakan town an hour later. He was clad in a long-sleeved grey t-shirt and camouflage trousers.
Zakiah was with Musa for about 30 minutes before the Chief Minister officially announced the policeman's release to the media.
The 26-year-old policeman told reporters that he was very happy to be back and thanked the Government, as well as his fellow policemen, especially those from the Special Branch who were involved in securing his release.
"Praise to God, I am just so relieved and happy to be free at last," he said.
Zakiah did not, however, relate his experience while being held captive by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in mountainous jungles following his abduction from Pulau Mabul on July 12 last year.
Musa, meanwhile, said he had informed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak about Zakiah's release.
Zakiah's freedom was made possible through continuous negotiations with his captors, he added.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said a police team had left the state for Jolo at 2.30pm on Friday to bring Zakiah back.
He said the team brought Zakiah out of the Indanan municipality in Jolo Island about an hour before midnight. A team of policemen escorted Zakiah on a MASwings flight that arrived in Kota Kinabalu at 1.30pm.
He was whisked from the Kota Kinabalu International Airport and taken to an undisclosed location to meet his family and be debriefed by security officials.
Jalaluddin declined to say where Zakiah had been taken to.
Zakiah's colleague Kpl Ab Rajah Jamuan, 32, was killed in the July 12 incident.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Zakiah looked lethargic and would not be rushed back to work.
"We will arrange for a psychology expert to evaluate his condition to make sure he is not traumatised and to determine when he can start work again," he said.
"I have also spoken to Jalaluddin to have him transferred to another unit," he added.