Mutilated bodies discovered in Sabah

Filipino gunmen mutilated several Malaysian policemen and beheaded one of them in an incident about which Malaysian authorities have released only scant details.

The mutilation occurred in a village near the eastern Sabah coast town of Semporna on March 2, three days before Malaysian security forces on Tuesday launched air and ground assaults against a large group of militants holed up in palm oil plantations 150 kilometres away near the town of Lahad Datu.

The Semporna incident during which six policemen were killed shocked Malaysian authorities and was the catalyst for Malaysian prime ministerNajib Razak deploying seven battalions of soldiers to Sabah with orders to use whatever force was necessary to defeat the militants, informed sources say.

More than 200 gunmen claiming to be a royal militia in the service of the Sultanate of Sulu arrived in Sabah, a Malaysian state on Borneo island, three weeks ago claiming they are the rightful heirs of the area, prompting the most serious security crisis in Malaysia in decades.

The sultanate was an Islamic Kingdom that for centuries ruled the southern Philippines and parts of what is now Malaysia’s Sabah state but is now not officially recognised by any state.

Details have begun to emerge in Sabah about the Semporna incident where a group of 19 policemen were ambushed during a patrol of the village of Simunul, two kilometres from Semporna, on the evening of March 2.

Several captured policemen were tortured and their bodies mutilated and one was beheaded, the Borneo Insider reported.

‘‘It is against our religion to behead anyone. It’s terrible, it’s cruel,’’ Azmi, a fisherman who lives near the village was quoted as saying.

When about 50 police reinforcements were sent to the area six militants were killed in a fierce fire-fight before others escaped, local media reported.

Extremist groups in the insurgency-plagued southern Philippines have often beheaded their enemies, including captured Philippine soldiers andkidnap hostages whose family did not pay a ransom.

The gunmen who arrived in Sabah have appeared to be hardened fighters adept at insurgency tactics, raising the possibility of their links to insurgency groups like the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a group which was not a signatory to a peace deal signed last year between another group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government.

The deal was brokered by Malaysia.

Nur Misuari, the MNLF’s leader, told journalists on Tuesday that his group had not supported the incursion but he warned Malaysian authorities not to harm Filipino civilians in Sabah.

‘‘Do not touch our civilians,’’ he said. ‘‘Once you do that, that will be tantamount to declaration of war against our people and the Moro National Liberation Front.’’

In the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga, Habib Hashim Madjahab, an MNLF official, told reporters that some of his group’s supporters had gone to Sabah to reinforce the Filipinos there.

‘‘We are hurt and many of our people, even the non-combatants, are going to Sabah to help the sultanate,’’ Mr Madjahab said.

There have been no reports of more Filipinos arriving on Sabah, one of Malaysia’s 13 states located on the northern part of Borneo that is only an hour’s motor boat ride from the southern Philippines.

Malaysian authorities have released little information about their operations to hunt the gunmen, including the number of Filipinos they have killed or wounded.

‘‘It is against our religion to behead anyone. It’s terrible, it’s cruel,’’ Azmi, a fisherman who lives near the village was quoted as saying.

The story Mutilated bodies discovered in Sabah first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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