KOTA KINABALU - Malaysian police are investigating if two men they gunned downed are Sulu militants, after a dramatic shootout in a Sabah town reignited fears of a Sulu rebel resurgence.
Addressing the media yesterday, Sabah Police Commissioner Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said the two men, aged 50 and 42, were about to commit an armed robbery on Thursday and were part of a group that committed at least three other robberies involving more than RM1 million (S$390,000), The Star reported.
But rumours were spreading on social media that the incident signalled a resurgence of Sulu militants, who stunned the country last year when they "invaded" a remote beach in eastern Sabah to claim ancestral ownership over parts of the state.
The crisis ended after three weeks when Malaysian military stormed the beach. More than 60 militants were killed, as well as eight policemen.
A Bernama report on Thursday said the duo were robbers but also suspected to be Sulu rebel leaders and the "driving force" behind the recruitment of new members. Quoting a police source, the report said the two men had tried to spread the Sulu Sultanate ideology, while preaching violence.
It added that the police were tracking down the rest of the group, who are believed to be "getting active off the east coast of Sabah".
Yesterday, Datuk Jalaluddin said the two men were Filipinos, although one of them had a Malaysian identity card, which the police are authenticating.
"We are not denying that they may be Sulu militants, but let us run full investigations into their identities," Mr Jalaluddin was quoted as saying by Malay Mail Online. He did not name the duo.
The Star, however, reported that one message purportedly from the police identified them as Malaysian Ismail Muksin, 45, also known as Panglima Alex; and Filipino refugee Husin Esmail, 50, who goes by the name Panglima Husin.
The shooting incident in the town of Penampang near Kota Kinabalu on Thursday had gripped public attention as videos and pictures were posted on social media.
Mr Jalaluddin said the police - who had been monitoring the suspects for weeks - received a tip-off that the men were planning to strike a bank or a goldsmith shop, and were trailing their Isuzu four-wheel drive on Thursday. When they reached Penampang, police intercepted the vehicle and confronted them.
"One of the policemen from the trailing vehicles went up to the suspects and introduced himself as a police officer, and a waiting policeman shouted 'pistol' when the latter saw the suspect's accomplice taking out a pistol," he said. "A shootout occurred after that and the two suspects were killed. None of our men were injured in the incident."
Police recovered a Browning pistol with an empty casing inside the chamber and two empty shells inside the vehicle.
This article was first published on Nov 01, 2014.
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