The leader of a band of Filipino militants whose incursion in Malaysia has left scores dead has reportedly fled even as his own family insist he is still in the country.
More than 200 followers of a Filipino sultan entered Sabah on Borneo Island a month ago to resurrect long-dormant land claims by Jamalul Kiram III.
Malaysian forces launched a military assault on Monday last week against the group, sending them fleeing from a farming village where they had been holed up.
Malaysian Armed Forces chief Zulkifeli Zin said intelligence reports showed that Agbimuddin Kiram, whose family says is the crown prince of the Sulu sultanate, had managed to evade security forces and slip out of Malaysia.
“[He] has abandoned his men and fled to his homeland,” Zulkifeli was quoted by local media as saying late on Friday.
However, his family has denied that the man, the younger brother of the sultan, had left Malaysia.
When asked about the armed forces chief’s comments, the clan’s Manila spokesman Abraham Idjirani told reporters: “That’s not true.”
The New Straits Times reported that Agbimuddin Kiram is believed to have slipped out of the farming area, surrounded by Malaysian security forces, by blending in with the local population before the military attack earlier this month.
According to the latest police figures, 61 suspected militants have been killed in Malaysia’s biggest security crisis in years.
Eight police officers and a soldier have also died.