Malaysian commando dies after live firing demonstration goes horribly wrong

PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

KOTA KINABALU - He was an elite commando who would have begun serving as a United Nations peacekeeper in Lebanon in a few weeks' time. Instead, in a live firing demonstration gone awry at an army camp here, he was shot dead by a fellow soldier.

The tragic incident has raised questions about what went wrong.

Mejar Mohd Zahir Armaya, a 36-year-old father of five, was a son of veteran actor-comedian A.R. Badul, 70, and his former second wife, a Sabahan.

Police said they were investigating the case for negligence, while the Malaysian Army said it would form a special committee to probe the incident.

Mejar Zahir was pronounced dead at the accident and emergency unit of Queen Elizabeth Hospital here at 9.20am yesterday, about an hour after he was shot while participating in a demonstration at the Lok Kawi army camp to mark the launch of the army's Fifth Infantry Division and 13th Infantry Brigade.

It was learned that as part of the demonstration, Mejar Zahir, taking on the role of a 'criminal', was to shoot at a soldier who would then return fire.

However, the soldier apparently missed his mark and the bullet struck Mejar Zahir in a spot not protected by a bullet-proof vest.

Military medics administered immediate treatment before sending him to the hospital, where he succumbed to the bullet wound.

Amid questions on how the death occurred and the quality of the bullet-proof vests used during the demonstration, Mejar Zahir's grieving 56-year-old mother, Rusunjan Mohammad, identified him at the hospital mortuary.

Penampang OCPD Deputy Supt Haris Ibrahim said the police were investigating the case for negligence under Section 304A of the Penal Code and were taking statements from those involved.

"A soldier is also being questioned in connection with the incident," he said.

Mejar Zahir, who was supposed to meet up with his mother yesterday before returning to Kuala Lumpur, was taken to the Lok Kawi army mosque after a post-mortem.

His body was flown back to Kuala Lumpur late yesterday for burial in Perak.

According to family members here, Mejar Zahir was enlisted as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon and was scheduled to leave later this month.

"It is unimaginable. How can something like this happen? It should not have happened," said an uncle of Mejar Zahir who declined to be named.

Mejar Zahir was with the commando unit based in the Sungai Udang army camp in Melaka.

In a statement, the Malaysian Army said the simulation had been ongoing since Aug 19 but on the proper demonstration day, a fatal situation occurred.

"The Malaysian Army will form a special investigation committee to identify the cause of the incident," said its public relations department.

Meanwhile, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah and the Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah extended their condolences to the family.

The King said he sympathised with and felt sad for the family in this time of sorrow, while offering prayers for Mejar Zahir's soul.

Sultan Abdullah added that as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he valued Mejar Zahir's services and contributions as an officer with the Gerak Khas 11th Regiment.

In a statement, Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu said he hoped the family would stay strong in this situation.

"We, at the Defence Ministry, too, sympathise with their loss.

"I hope the public will not make any speculations (with regard to the death) until the autopsy is completed, as a mark of respect to the family of the deceased," he said.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal said his prayers were with the family during their hour of grief.

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