Nine Filipinos have been sentenced to hang for their part in a bloody attempt to retake Sabah from Malaysia in 2013.
The incursion by about 200 Islamic militants from the southern Philippines was inspired by a Philippine sultanate’s claim of historical ownership of the state on the northeast of Borneo island.
The landing at Lahad Datu led to a siege between the militants and the country’s armed forces. At least 70 people, mostly Filipino militants, were killed over six-weeks of clashes. The episode eventually fizzled out when some of the militants fled back to the Philippines.
The nine were handed life sentences last year, but prosecutors appealed for a stiffer penalty.
“With this current sentence, I am satisfied,” Deputy Public Prosector Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin told AFP. “Hopefully this will deter other alien nations from intruding into Sabah and Malaysia.”
He added that technically the nine had been sentenced to death for waging war on the ‘Yang di-Pertuan Agong’, or Malaysian monarchy, and jail sentences of 13 to 18 years were handed out for “being a member of a terrorist group”.
Datuk Mohd Zawawi Salleh, chair of the three-man panel, said the nine were “part of a conspiracy” against the Malaysian government to dictate its foreign relations and weaken the country to reclaim Sabah.
The Philippines said it would ask Malaysia to reconsider the death penalty. Government official Raul Dado said Philippine officials in Malaysia were “meeting immediately with embassy lawyers”.
An estimated 800,000 Filipinos — most of them refugees from the war-torn south of the country — live in Sabah, which is about a quarter of the total population. The state is just a short boat ride away from the Philippines.
The crisis was an acute embarrassment to the governments in both Manila and Kuala Lumpur, and shone a spotlight on the porous maritime border between the two countries — an issue that is again of concern with the growth of Islamic terrorism in the region.