Malaysians are puzzled by how Sulu terrorist leader Agbimuddin Kiram had escaped the enforced security dragnet by the joint securities forces.
The embarrassing escape of Agbimuddin Kiram, the man wanted by security forces for leading a group of armed men from the Southern Philippines on an invasion of Sabah has left many flummoxed by the ease with which he had left the country in much the same way he had come in.
Police say the 72-year-old leader of the Sulu group probably escaped from their mop-up operations code named Ops Daulat a few days ago, leaving behind a small number of gunmen to do the fighting in and around Tanjung Labian.
Agbimuddin is believed to have been smuggled out of Sabah waters to Simunul, one of the islands in Tawi Tawi province, and is keeping a low profile.
This is the third time Malaysian security forces appear to have been outsmarted by Agbimuddin and his armed group who had slipped into Sabah undetected between Feb 9-12 and then escaped the cordon thrown around Kampung Tanduo which they had occupied since then till March 4.
While the Philippines navy has said that it had intercepted in Tawi-Tawi waters two boats with about 35 men, one of them wounded, packed onboard fleeing Sabah on Wednesday, it was not known if he was among the group.
Both the Inspector General of Police Ismail Omar and Armed Force Chief Zulkifeli Mohd Zin have, however, confirmed that he has escaped and is now back in the southern Philippines.
They added that based on intelligence and information received they could not tell how he managed to escape the security dragnet.
Meanwhile, Tawi-Tawi governor Sadikul Sahari said yesterday Agbimuddin was not among the 35 but the Sulu leader remains a wanted man by order of the President Benigno Aquino.
“Our police and navy are on the look out for him. If he appears, he will surely be arrested,” he said declining to comment on talk that Agbimuddin could be lying low with relatives in on the island of Simunul in Tawi-Tawi province.
Sadikul said that about 50 more Filipinos had reached Taganak island yesterday and were on their way to Bongoa island, the administrative capital of the province.
“I do not know if they were from the battle area but I was told that they are ordinary Filipinos fleeing Sabah,” he added.
Agbimuddin vanished from sight after the March 5 bombardment of Kg Tanduo. While there has been no direct contact with him, his family members in Manila have insisted he is alive and still with his followers.
Meanwhile, the Philippines’ Justice Department has booked the 35 gunmen of the so called ‘Royal Sulu Army’ on various criminal charges including inciting war.
She said the cases against them under the violation of the Election Gun Ban and violation of Article 118 of the Revised Penal Code for Inciting to War or Giving Motives for reprisals would be filed before the Bongao, Tawi-Tawi Regional Trial Court.
The department’s secretary Leila DeLima said an informal investigation or inquest proceeding has been instituted against the 35 was held on Thursday evening.
Such investigations are conducted following any arrest without warrant to determine whether that person should remain in custody and be charged in court. The 35 have been detained in a naval facility in Tawi-Tawi.