GUNFIGHT: Cop recounts the moment Sulu terrorists killed his colleagues in Kampung Simunul on March 2. The blue house from where the first volley of fire had come from in Kampung Simunul on March 2.
12/03/2013: AS the main assaulters in the police raiding team outside the terrorists hideout were hit by bullets, *Adam, *Amir and the other operatives behind them pulled back and dove for cover. The enemy had a clear field of fire and the police team was exposed.
Just seconds after the terrorists opened fire, the area where the terrorists were located exploded in a volley of fresh fire as more enemy combatants lit up the police assault team. The police laid down suppressive fire to give their men a chance to get behind cover.
Many leapt into the door-less houses that lined the walkway; these would be their foxholes for the next 24 hours, at least. Adam and Amir were among those who escaped the complex maze. They dialled up their combat net (command centre) and called for backup.
Recalling that moment, Adam said as he moved further from the house, turning his head every now and then, he saw the terrorists exit the house to pull his comrades who were lying in pools of their own blood outside the door, closer in.
"One of our men who was shot at the door retreated but fell into the water below. Somehow, he managed to call the operations centre.
"He was telling command about the ambush and that he had been shot. The terrorists must have heard him. We found his bullet-riddled body a few metres from where he fell," Adam said.
This was the only time throughout our conversation that Adam was overcome with emotion.
"Then there was a lull in the fighting. I looked back and this was when I saw the terrorists striking my brothers with their barong (a knife resembling a cleaver used in the Philippines) repeatedly.
"They were already badly wounded. I did not hear any sound coming from them as they were being hacked," the officer, not more than 30, said. He let his voice trail off until he was barely audible.
Heavy gunfire resumed, this time coming from all directions. *Musa, who was peering through the cracks with one eye cocked on the four men he had in custody in case they decided to jump him, was almost hit by two rounds that slammed through the window.
In less than a minute from when the first shot was fired, several terrorists began to advance and press on with their attack on the policemen.
The terrorists appeared to know the area well as they were believed to have entered the village about a week before.
Musa said as it was quite dark outside, he could not return fire for fear of hitting one of his own.
From where he was, he could see the atrocities that were being committed against his fallen comrades in the dimly-lit blue house.
His voice cracked as he told us: "If there is one thing I could erase from my memory, it is the sight of seeing my fellow brothers slaughtered by the terrorists.
"I saw one of my brothers, who had been shot and was barely alive, when one of the terrorists swung his barong at his neck. He was later shot in the mouth," Musa said, his voice cracking.
This was the same time that Inspector Mohd Hasnal, who was kneeling on the walkway after being shot, was being attacked by a barong-wielding terrorist.
Although he could not fight back, Hasnal shielded himself from the blows with his arms. By then, his fingers and forearm were almost severed. His attacker had also managed to strike him on his head and back.
*Ahmad, from his position, saw the whole thing and lit Hasnal's attacker up with his weapon. His trigger finger never relaxed as he fired off round after round, spent bullet casings coming out of his ejection port in a torrent of brass. He also killed another terrorist.
Ahmad unloaded an entire magazine clip on Hasnal's attacker before the terrorist fell into the boat below. Police later found amulets around the terrorist's waist. He and the rest of the terrorists did not have body armour or ballistic protection.
It was then that Hasnal got up to take cover. As luck would have it, he chose the path that led to the house Ahmad was in. Seeing him approach, Ahmad dived into the narrow corridor and pushed Hasnal into the house Musa was in.
Superintendent Ibrahim Lebar, who had just been shot a few metres away, was a few steps behind Hasnal. However, he came face to face with a terrorist who had turned into the corridor. The terrorist shot at him and attacked him with a barong.
Ahmad, who had heard the shot from inside the house, shot at the terrorist, who managed to run away.
Ibrahim died in the corridor.
Having seen the kind of butchers the Suluk terrorists were, Ahmad was determined to keep his superior's body intact. He dragged his body in.
As the night fell silent
The next 24 hours was a living hell for Musa and the rest of the men trapped at the village. Although the night had became still since the final rounds were fired, they were hunkered down within the four walls of their concealed positions. They didn't know whom they could trust.
With one hand on his weapon and pointing it at the four suspects, and the other trying to stem the flow of blood from Hasnal's wounds, Musa's eyes darted around the house. He didn't know where the terrorists would breach his position, where they were going to come in from. They could come in through the kitchen door or the open window he was facing. He prayed hard for a rescue team to come soon.
"I had to urinate in my pants and a piece of cloth, because if the terrorists heard the sound of water dripping, we were all dead.
"Occasionally, I would wake Hasnal up to make sure he was still alive."
Musa had found a water container that the occupants of the house had used to catch water leaking from the roof. It was full of unidentifiable particles and lizard droppings.
"I drank it and gave Hasnal some. That was the same water that I used to clean off the blood on his face."
He said that while his phone battery had long died, he had to remove Hasnal's phone battery as he was unsure of how to switch it off. He couldn't risk the terrorists tracing them. The four suspects had been patted down before the ambush and had had their phones seized.
The rescue operation
The sound of the wooden walkway creaking at 5pm the next day jolted an exhausted Musa.
Heavy footsteps advancing towards him followed. He peeked through the cracks and saw scores of VAT 69 commandos in full tactical assault gear scouring the area. He grabbed the reflective vest he had hidden throughout the night and hung it by the window, to indicate his position to the rescuers.
Earlier, before his mission was launched, the entire team had agreed on a set of pro words, hand signals and gestures to convey information efficiently.
As agreed during the briefing at the headquarters, in case anything were to go wrong, Musa would lie still on his back.
This would enable the rescue team to immediately identify him as a friendly.
The commandos stormed into the house and as per procedure, he gave them a brief report. They then secured and took with them all the weapons in the room, including his.
"I somewhat felt like a prisoner when my weapon was taken away.
"Then, the commandos shouted 'Secured!' and said that they would come back for me," he said.
Inspector Hasnal was immediately taken away by two of the commandos out of the hostile area. "It was the greatest relief for me when Hasnal was brought out alive.
"He had fought hard for his life and it was not in vain."