KUALA LUMPUR: It’s a story he’s told many a time, but one that retired Lieutenant-General Zaini Mohamad Said never tires of retelling, especially to young people.
It is the story of how he, unarmed, faced down a gun-toting leader of a group of rebels at point-blank range and ended a siege that might have ended in much more bloody terms.
For his actions he was awarded Malaysia’s highest gallantry award, the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa, together with police commando Abdul Razak Mohd Yusoff of the VAT 69 unit, the mediator who persuaded the group members to surrender.
In narrating his encounter with the Al-Maunah group in 2000, Zaini said it was important going over it all again “precisely that people may repeat history if they forget or do not know about it”.
He said the Al-Maunah group had carried out a sophisticated operation.
Donned in army uniforms and using vehicles in Malaysian army colours and fake military registration plates, they had entered several army reserve posts and taken away a large cache of arms.
“They claimed they were from the intelligence unit and wanted to inspect the weapons there,” he added.
Zaini said the authorities only knew about the group when they threatened army officers at one of the posts while stealing the weapons.
Zaini said if Al-Maunah had distributed the arms to members they could have used the arms to create insecurity in Malaysia.
“As an army field commander back then, I was called up to support the police in this case of emergency,” he added.
Zaini said the authorities tracked down the Al-Maunah base and surrounded the area in Bukit Jenalik, Sauk, near Kuala Kangsar in Perak, for four days.
“And at the same time, the PM (Dr Mahathir Mohamad) asked us why it took us so long to resolve it, citing public pressure against the government”.
Zaini said they did not want to handle the matter hastily, as the police and armed forces wanted to learn more about Al-Maunah and whether they also kept hostages.
“We remembered the Memali incident where police and villagers were killed,” he said, making reference to the 1985 incident in Baling, Kedah where 18 people were killed.
During the four-day siege, two policemen, Sergeant Mohd Shah Ahmad and Detective Corporal Raju Saghadevan of Special Branch; a soldier, Corporal Matthew anak Medan of the Royal Malaysian Rangers; and a civilian, Jaafar Puteh, were taken hostage by Al-Maunah.
Matthew was killed in cold blood by the rebels. The next day, Saghadevan was killed in a cross-fire between the surrounding security forces and the Al-Maunah rebels.
Zaini said the authorities decided to attack the group silently on the afternoon of July 6, 2000.
The police VAT 69 Commando went in and after two hours of negotiations with Razak, the group agreed to surrender.
Zaini went up the hill with his 43 Commandos, but found that the group leader, Mohamed Amin Mohamed Razali, had refused to give up.
Zaini said he confronted Amin, who pointed a gun at him.
“I wasn’t even carrying any weapon with me. We struggled when I wanted to take him down. A shot was fired and hit another member there,” he said.
Amin and more than 20 of his supporters were captured and later put on trial. Amin and two lieutenants were sentenced to death for waging war against the Agong. They were hanged in 2006.
Six others were sentenced to 10 years’ jail on a lesser charge, while the rest of the group were placed in detention under the Internal Security Act.
Zaini said after the siege, he had met the leader while he was being taken into detention.
Zaini recounted how Amin had tried to kill him. “He just kept quiet and did not say anything”.
Asked about his impressions of Amin, the general said that he found Amin to be an angry man.
“He was a lance corporal in the army and I cannot figure out how he could have planned such a thing,” Zaini added.