Street killings spark fears in Malaysia

A 40-year-old man who survived being shot five times in Kuala Lumpur in June. The general manager of a massage chair company was driving to work when unidentified motorcyclists opened fire on his car. Eight people have been killed in at least 11 such
A 40-year-old man who survived being shot five times in Kuala Lumpur in June. The general manager of a massage chair company was driving to work when unidentified motorcyclists opened fire on his car. Eight people have been killed in at least 11 such shootings in Malaysia this year, with some carried out in broad daylight.PHOTO: CHINA PRESS

Police trying to secure borders to prevent smuggling of firearms after spate of shootings targeting individuals

Malaysia's recent spate of murders where victims were gunned down in public has heightened fears over the apparent ease in getting firearms and concerns that innocent people could also get hurt.

Since January, there have been at least 11 such shooting cases nationwide, with eight people killed. The gangland-style assassinations all targeted individuals, with several carried out in broad daylight.

Last month, a gunman on a motorcycle fired five bullets into the car of a real estate agent, Datin Renyce Wong Siew Ling, 32, killing her. Her eight-year-old daughter, who was shot twice, survived.

In another shooting late last month that was caught on video, four men on two motorcycles tailed moneylender V. Kandasamy, 43, as he was driving in Kuala Lumpur.

When he stopped at a busy traffic junction surrounded by many vehicles and motorcycles, two of the men dismounted, each standing on either side of the car before firing 16 bullets and killing Mr Kandasamy.

Where do the guns come from?

Q Where do the guns come from?

A The authorities have cited Malaysia's porous borders as a contributing factor. Most illegal firearms are believed to be brought in from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Q How are they smuggled in?

A Gun parts are hidden in lorries or family cars, with smugglers travelling in small groups to avoid suspicion, say local media reports. Due to the large numbers crossing the border daily, vehicles are checked only at random.

Q What's the cost of an illegal gun?

A The average price is between RM2,000 ($667) and RM3,000 if the gun is purchased at the border.

The price goes up significantly - about RM10,000 to RM12,000 - if the gun is delivered to the buyer's doorstep, according to a crime-watch activist.

The Malay Mail Online news site reported that a bullet cost less than RM2. Q What is behind the recent spate of street shootings?

A The reasons for the shootings are believed to be related to gang disputes or business rivalry.

Trinna Leong

"This is really frightening - left, right, the men fired bullets at the car," Facebook user Azmi Hassan said.

"It's high time to stop gun violence here. Enough is enough," said another user Eric Wong.

Police have said they are taking the street killings seriously and are trying to secure Malaysia's porous borders to prevent firearms from being brought into the country.

"There's always a risk of misfire, or ricochet bullets hitting unintended victims," said Dr P. Sundramoorthy, a criminologist from the Universiti Sains Malaysia.

According to police, the statistics show that property crimes - rather than violent criminal acts - have risen.

But for Malaysians living in a country boasting strict gun control, the 11 public shootings so far this year are just too many.

Also, many would remember that back-to-back gun violence took place on the streets of Malaysia not too long ago. In 2013, there were at least 30 shootings in the span of four months.

"In 2013, the surge in violent crimes happened after the Emergency Ordinance Act was abolished," said Dr Sundramoorthy, referring to the old Act that allowed for detention without trial.

When that law was repealed in 2011, nearly 2,500 prisoners were released, many of them gangsters.

The rise in shootings at that time was attributed to these gangsters settling old scores with rival gangs after they left prison.

This time round, however, it is not yet clear what has sparked the sudden rise in unrelated gun violence. Thus far, the authorities have attributed it to gang disputes or business rivalries.

To ease public concern, police recently announced the setting up of a special task force to handle gangsterism and hitmen in Malaysia.

Figures from the World Bank also showed that Malaysia had two intentional homicides per 100,000 people in 2013; Singapore had zero and the United States, four.

Despite Malaysia's strict gun ownership laws that make it difficult to obtain firearms legally, police say guns are often smuggled in from southern Thailand.

Last month, a self-employed man was sentenced to eight years in jail after pleading guilty to trying to smuggle in two pistols and 72 rounds of live ammunition at the Thai-Malaysian border last year.

In the case of Sabah and Sarawak, officials say, the guns found often come from the southern Philippines or Indonesia.

Experts say that while there is no foolproof system to stop firearms from being brought into Malaysia illegally, further tightening of border security will be a great deterrent.

"In view of the recent cases of cold-blooded gun killings, ordinary Malaysians' lives are at stake," said opposition MP Sim Tze Tzin.

"The government... must act fast to restore the confidence of Malaysians."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2016, with the headline 'Street killings spark fears in Malaysia'. Print Edition | Subscribe