KOTA KINABALU - The group of 30 persons charged with offences linked to last year's Lahad Datu armed incursion were trying to wrest control of Sabah, said Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail.
He told the High Court, in the prosecution's opening statement, that the prosecution would prove this by tendering evidence showing that witnesses were involved in negotiations with members of the terrorist group that took place in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu, last year.
"The latter (members of terrorist group) expressed their intention to claim the state of Sabah," he said at the hearing before judge Steven Chung Hian Guan at Central Prison in Kepayan, near here yesterday.
Gani said after negotiations failed, the members of the terrorist group resorted to force and violence to challenge the government's authority by attacking Malaysian security forces patrolling the nearby area.
"The force and violence spread throughout the area, causing nine members of the Malaysian security forces to be brutally attacked and killed in Kampung Simunul, Semporna, and in some other areas in Lahad Datu, in Sabah.
"Fourteen members of the Malaysian security forces were injured as well," he said, adding that the prosecution would not only rely on oral and documentary evidence against the accused but also on confessions made by some of the accused persons.
Twenty two of the accused were charged with waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and being members of a terrorist group. Jamalul Kiram III's nephew, Datu Amirbahar Hushin Kiram, was among those charged.
Others facing both charges were Abd Hadi Mawan, Abdul Majil Jubin, Rijmal Salleh, Saidili Jaharul, Dani Ismail, Pabblo Alie, Mohamad Ali Ahmad, Basil Samiul, Rizman Gulan, and Totoh Hismullah.
Also charged with waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong were Atik Hussin Abu Bakar, Basad Manuel, Masir Aidin, Ismail Yasin, Anwar Salib Akhmad, Binhar Salib Akhmad, Virgilio Nemar Patulada alias Mohammad Alam Patulada, Salib Akhmad Emali, Al Wazir Osman@Abdul, Tani Lahad Dahi and Julham Rashid.
They were also charged with being members of a terrorist group with Aiman Radie, Lin Mad Salleh, Holland Kalbi and Timhar Hadir.
A local woman, Norhaida Ibnahi, and two men, Kadir Uyung and Lating Tiong, were charged with harbouring a group of terrorists, while Salib Ahmad faced an additional charge of recruiting for the group.
Gani is assisted by deputy public prosecutors Mohd Dusuki Mokhtar, Abdul Wahab Mohamad, Ishak Mohd Yusoff, Anati Kisahi, and Cheng Heng Kher.
The accused are represented by a team of lawyers led by Datuk N. Sivananthan.
The first prosecution witness, Senior Assistant Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun, 57, Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) Security and Public Order Division director, told the court the sight of 79 people armed with weapons caught his attention in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu, early last year.
Some of them had rifles, one had a pistol, and many of them carried with them "barongs" or parang.
The armed group, consisting of men and women, were dressed in military fatigues with many types of emblems, he said, describing what he and Sabah Special Branch deputy chief Assistant Commissioner Zulkifli Abd Aziz saw when they drove into the village to negotiate with Agbimuddin Kiram, the brother of the late Jamalul Kiram III, on Feb 15 last year.
"Three of the men were holding M16 (assault rifles) while another man was armed with a .45 calibre pistol on his waist.
"Almost all of them were also armed with barong slung across their torso or on waistbands," he said during examination-in-chief by Abdul Gani.
He said they, accompanied by three other policemen, entered the village between 10.45am and 11am that day, bringing rice and other necessities as requested by Agbimuddin.
He said he met Agbimuddin and was introduced by Zulkefli as Sergeant Major Haji Rashid.
He said after the introduction, he helped carry supplies from the vehicle to the kitchen of the house, where he met other members with whom he conversed in simple English and Bahasa Melayu and shared cigarettes with them.
He said that he overheard snippets of conversation between Zulkifli and Agbimuddin.
"Agbimuddin was saying that they would not leave the area as long as his brother, Sultan Ismail Kiram, did not come there personally and order them to leave," he said.
Abdul Rashid said they spent about an hour there before leaving at 12pm. Zulkifli told them they would return the next day. "He (Zulkifli) also asked for permission from Agbimuddin to take pictures with them."
With a smile, Gani asked whether he also posed for the cameraman, to which Abdul Rashid said he did.
This elicited laughter from security personnel, lawyers, court officials and members of the media present in court.
The witness explained that this was all done as part of "ground appreciation" (reconnaissance) for future operations against the group of intruders.
He said this involved examination of the terrain, strength of the enemy, weapons carried by them and any other information that would assist the carrying out of future operations.
He said when he returned to Kampung Tanduo the following day, he counted 63 gunmen, different to those who had been present the previous day, and they were also armed.
Most of them carried a machette like on the previous day (Feb 15) and one had two grenade launchers hanging on his chest. He also saw M16 rifles, Garand rifles, four Colt .45 pistols, a revolver and a carbine.
Hearing continues today.