S'porean's close shave as gunmen attack resort island
S'porean man & his girlfriend turn in early with plans to watch match, escaping attack by gunmen at island resort off Sabah
A Singaporean businessman and his girlfriend on a diving holiday have the Fifa World Cup to thank for keeping them out of harm's way when gunmen attacked an island resort off Sabah in East Malaysia on Saturday night.
Mr Tong Hui Leong, 44, and Ms Liu Sha Sha, 29, retired to their room after dinner at about 9.30pm to have an early night so they could wake up at 4am to watch the third-place play-off between Brazil and Holland.
But they were still awake at about 11.10pm when they heard a series of gunshots echo across the Mabul Water Bungalows Resort.
Mr Tong, who is in information technology, told The New Paper over the phone from the resort yesterday: "The shots were extremely loud and sounded like they were fired from rifles, not handguns."
Startled, he jumped out of bed and told Miss Liu, who is from China, to keep low and stay away from the windows.
The gunfire was followed by several minutes of silence.
"The whole place was deathly quiet. There was no shouting, no alarms or even the sound of footsteps," he said.
Suddenly, there was another burst of gunfire.
"It sounded as if it was just five to 10 metres from our bungalow," said Mr Tong.
The couple remained where they were, not daring to move or make a sound. After what felt like an eternity, curiosity got the better of them and they peeked out of the front door.
Mr Tong said: "We initially thought the gunfire were warning shots from the marine officers to ward off pirates, but I immediately sensed something was amiss when I opened the door."
He saw an Asian man and a Caucasian man running back to their rooms.
They quickly closed the door. Some time later, they heard the sound of a motorboat speeding away.
At around midnight, there was a knock on the door, and the familiar voice of the resort manager.
Mr Tong said: "I was so afraid that she had been taken hostage and there would be a gunman behind her when I opened the door."
To his relief, the manager was flanked by heavily armed marine officers. They were checking to see if any of the guests had been taken hostage.
"They wanted to see all our faces to make sure that we were all right," Mr Tong said.
The couple found out later that heavily armed Filipino gunmen had raided the resort on Mabul island, near Sipadan island, and shot dead marine police Corporal Rajah Jamuan, 32, and abducted his colleague, Constable Zakiah Aliep, 26.
Mr Tong said he was aware that the area was notorious for armed raids and abductions. But he felt the six-day, five-night package at the resort was too good to resist.
"We figured that the most dangerous place could also be the safest," he said.
The couple went to the resort with Mr Tong's Singaporean friend, Mr Loo Guan Xue. Their first two nights were uneventful, but Mr Tong described what happened on Saturday night as "a once-in-a-lifetime experience".
After the shock of the attack, he and Miss Liu fell asleep soon afterwards and missed the Brazil-Holland match.
When they woke up at 7am, they saw bullet casings along the walkway to their bungalow, and in the restaurant.
Mr Tong said that he and Miss Liu felt incredibly lucky to have emerged from the incident unscathed.
"We came so close to getting kidnapped. It could have been one of us.
"This place is one of the best diving spots in the world," said Mr Tong, who has dived at Sabah's east coast islands three times since 2006.
"But we are not going to come back to this area any time soon after our experience. It's too dangerous."
Gunmen shot marine officer in the water
THE NEW PAPER, YESTERDAY
The resort manager later told his guests what had happened on Saturday night, said Mr Tong Hui Leong.
Eight armed men had emerged from a motorboat beneath the resort's helipad, where a mini jetty is located.
They moved towards the resort's restaurant and passed by the lounge area, where a marine officer was sleeping.
He was captured and closed-circuit television footage shows that he was begging for his life with the gunmen.
A security guard employed by the resort was making his rounds when he saw the group of men.
He alerted another sleeping marine officer on the other side of the restaurant.
When the second marine officer went to check what was going on, the raiders saw him and fired at him, then chased him through the restaurant.
This was the first volley of shots heard by Mr Tong and his girlfriend.
During the chase, the gunmen found an Asian man hiding under a table. A few gunmen stood guard over him while the rest continued their pursuit of the marine officer.
They asked the Asian man to return to his room, and Mr Tong saw him running with a Caucasian man.
Meanwhile, the officer tried to shake off his pursuers by diving into the sea. The gunmen fired into the water and killed the officer.
That was the second round of gunfire heard by Mr Tong.
The gunmen regrouped in the lounge and took the first marine officer with them as they left on their motorboat.
Mr Tong saw bullet holes in the restaurant the next morning and found bullet casings at the walkway from where the gunmen shot and killed the officer in the water.
Abducted officer alive, location still unknown
WIDOWED: Madam Salamah, with her son, holding her late husband Corporal Rajah Jemuan's photograph and the Hari Raya clothes he had bought. PHOTO: THE STAR
The marine policeman who was taken hostage by the Filipino gunmen called his wife on Sunday night to say he was alive.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar told the Star yesterday: "He called his wife last night saying that he is okay except that he is with some people."
When asked where Constable Zakiah Aliep, 26, could be held, Mr Khalid said that they were not sure and that they were waiting for further calls.
Meanwhile, Constable Zakiah's colleague, Marine Police Corporal Rajah Jemuan, 32, was buried with full honours at the Muslim cemetery near his home village of Kampung Bubul, near Semporna in Sabah, yesterday morning.
His widow, Madam Salamah Ahmad, earlier told Malaysian newspaper The Star that she received a text message from him at 11.02pm on Saturday.
It said, "Sayang buat apa?" ("Dear, what are you doing?" in Malay).
As she and their son Khairin Zafran, who will turn one on July 26, were sleeping, the 26-year-old housewife did not think anything of it since he often sent text messages to her while on duty.
Around midnight, a cousin called to tell her the bad news. "I was in shock. In about an hour, the news came that he was killed. I just couldn't believe it," she told reporters.
Madam Salamah said her husband of seven years was looking forward to celebrating his son's first birthday and had bought the family's Hari Raya clothes.
"The new clothes are all in blue. He wanted a blue theme for the family," she said, adding that the birth of their son was very special to him as she had suffered two miscarriages.
Malaysia's Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that revenge was the likely motive behind the latest attack on Mabul island.
"They could have acted so because our military commandos and police succeeded in penetrating their stronghold to save a kidnapped Chinese national recently," he said on Sunday.
"But we will not yield to such attacks and will fight back to ensure the security of the region."
The heavily armed Filipino gunmen covered their faces with masks and wore military slacks and black shirts.
Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, who is in Lebanon, tweeted that the armed forces would work closely with the police to maintain security in the east coast of Sabah.
Although top police and military brass are looking at it as a possible revenge attack, some security officials believe the strike could also be associated with disgruntled groups hit by the crackdown on water villages on the east coast.
They are also trying to determine the group responsible for the audacious commando-style stealth attack and whether they were from the Abu Sayyaf group, a breakaway Moro faction, or the so-called Sulu Sultanate's royal army.
Unlike previous raids carried out by kidnap-for-ransom bandits based in neighbouring Tawi Tawi islands, the latest group came with intent to kill.
They arrived with guns blazing at the Mabul Water Bungalows Resort restaurant and office.
According to some security officials, it was quite clear that they intended to hit the security outposts though they could have also taken tourists as hostages if they had happened to see any.
Some officials felt that if it was revenge, the group would have attacked bases closer to the sea borders of Sabah and Tawi Tawi instead of coming close to shore for a risky operation at a time when security forces were on alert after a kidnap attempt at a fish farm near Kampung Bongau Bongau.