KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian police said they have shot dead five alleged gang members and arrested 200 people under a rarely used law in a crackdown on a crime wave that has swept the country.
Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the five men killed in a pre-dawn shoot-out in Penang on Monday were involved in 10 gun murder cases in Penang, Kedah and Negeri Sembilan.
"One of the five killed is believed to be the leader of the group but there are still other members of the gang that we are still hunting down," he told local reporters.
Local media reported that the men, aged between 23 and 27, were allegedly members of the notorious Gang 04, one of the country's larger criminal groups.
Penang police chief Abdul Rahim Hanafi said police had raided a rented apartment in Sungai Nibong, Penang, at 4.30am on Monday, following a tip-off.
"Once the police stormed into the house, they were shot at and the police returned fire," he was quoted as saying by Bernama. "After the shoot-out ended, police found five men dead in different rooms."
He said the police also found three pistols in the apartment.
The crackdown comes after a wave of shootings around the country, which killed a prominent banker and seriously injured the chief of a crime watchdog.
Since last Saturday, police have set up roadblocks from midnight to 5am daily around Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. Called Ops Cantas, or "Cut-Off Operation", it will be extended nationwide.
Tan Sri Khalid said police have nabbed 200 suspects since last Saturday under the rarely used Crime Prevention Act, which enables the police to detain suspects without trial for about 70 days to assist with investigations, provided there is court approval.
Mr Syahredzan Johan, a constitutional lawyer, said the Act was seldom used in the past, as the police had mainly used the now-repealed Emergency Ordinance (EO) and Internal Security Act (ISA) to detain suspects.
"This is because the EO and ISA allow the police to detain suspects for up to 60 days without court approval, which is easier for them, unlike the Crime Prevention Act that has judicial oversight," he told The Straits Times.
The police have blamed the recent surge in gun-related crime on turf wars among gangs after the release of former EO detainees in 2011. Police statistics showed there were 15,098 cases of violent crime, including murder and armed robbery, in the first half of this year, up from 14,811 in the same period last year.
Family members of the five killed by police expressed anger over the killings. Mr Nadarajah Somasundram, 62, an uncle of one of the dead men, claimed the suspects were shot between 20 and 30 times. "Why can't the police give warning shots?" he was quoted saying by Malaysiakini on Monday.
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