Malaysia's Special Action Unit combating terror 40 years on

Malaysia's Special Action Unit combating terror 40 years on

PETALING JAYA - Forty years ago, a group of Japanese terrorists took 50 people hostage in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

The event on Aug 4, 1975 took the country by surprise as any form of terror at that point was expected to be related to the communist insurgency.

The event proved to be a baptism of fire for the country's Special Action Unit, which was only four days old at that point.

Considered to be a secondary special forces unit of the police after the VAT69 (Very Able Troopers 69), personnel of the Special Action Unit (also called UTK after Unit Tindakan Khas) were chosen from those who display great potential - such as champion marksmen and so on - to undertake high-risk missions.

In its formative years, the unit's tactics and key influences were derived from Germany's Grenzschutzgruppe 9 der Bundes­polizei (Border Protection Group 9 of the German Federal Police), commonly known as GSG 9, as well as the Special Activities Division, a division of the CIA.

Some of the task assigned to UTK personnel include securing locations, tracking down fugitives, sniper operations, as well as providing security for VVIPs.

Other than the Red Army hostage taking incident, UTK was involved in the October 1985 hostage rescue operations of a doctor and medical assistant by six armed convicts led by Jimmy Chua in (now demolished) Pudu Jail in Kuala Lumpur.

After a six-day standoff, the hostages were successfully rescued, while Chua was captured alive.

UTK was also deployed on Jan 18, 2000 in an operation to arrest Gang Steyr, an armed robbery group which was led by ex-special forces personnel Mohd Hizan Jaafar.

During the operation, Mohd Hizan and his accomplice Abu Hasan were killed at Kampung Melayu Majidee, while two more gang members were killed at a shootout at the Kempas toll plaza in Johor Baru.

UTK also featured prominently in Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's life, where the unit was used to arrest him in his home on Sept 20, 1998, and once again near his home on July 16, 2008.

In 1997, VAT69 and UTK were merged into the Special Operations Force (PGK), though the two units are said to still retain their respective identities.

Over the years, PGK's snipers, technicians and ordnance experts regularly train with foreign special forces including the French GIGN, GSG 9, US Navy SEALs, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as Special Weapons and Tactics.

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