‘I’m not a bad person’: Released Malaysian hitman appeals for acceptance

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Sirul Azhar Umar, the convicted Malaysian assassin controversially released from Australian immigration detention along with more than 92 other detainees, has issued a tearful appeal to the community to accept him.

The former police commando and bodyguard to Malaysian prime ministers and kings had spent almost nine years inside Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, having fled to Australia shortly before he was sentenced to death in 2015.

Sirul Azhar Umar is now living in Canberra.Credit: Screengrab/Al Jazeera

A fortnight ago he was set free after the High Court ruled that immigration detainees with no prospect of being returned to their home countries could no longer be held indefinitely.

Sirul was among the cohort because of an Australian government policy not to send anyone back to a jurisdiction where they face execution.

“I’m thankful to God and thankful to the government of Australia for releasing me. I didn’t expect it,” he said in an interview with the Al Jazeera 101 East program broadcast on Friday. “I hope the Australian community accept me here [for] who I am. I’m not a bad person.”

Sirul is now living in Canberra with his 23-year-old son Shukri Azam Bin Sirul Azhar, who has spent the past decade in Australia.

Model and translator Altantuyaa Shaariibuu had been having an affair with Abdul Razak Baginda, a close associate of Malaysia’s then defence minister and future leader Najib Razak.

The interview was conducted two days after he was let out and before the Albanese government rushed through new legislation imposing stricter conditions on released detainees, such as ankle bracelets and curfews.

While the Malaysian government has invited Sirul to have his sentence reviewed and possibly commuted to jail time after it abolished the mandatory death penalty this year, he has no intention of going back.

“I feel in danger there because I’m aware that it’s truly unsafe for me to return. Whatever happens, I want to build a life with my child here in Australia,” he said.

“I’m appealing to the community here. Please accept me. I promised my son I would never, ever breach the law here. I follow everything. Please accept me [for] who I am here. I love Australia, really. From my heart, from my soul. Give me a second chance.”

Sirul claims he is the victim of “political games” and has no intention of returning to Malaysia.

The releasing of the detainees, many of whom have committed violent offences, has created a political storm for the Albanese government, which has been under scrutiny over its preparedness for the High Court decision.

The government has made clear that it argued in court against the release and has introduced new legislation aimed at protecting the community.

Sirul and fellow police commando Azilah Hadri were re-convicted in 2015 over one Malaysia’s most notorious crimes – the murder of Mongolian model and translator Altantuyaa Shaariibuu in the jungle outside Kuala Lumpur in 2006. The 28-year-old, who was pregnant at the time, was fatally shot in the head before her body was blown up with explosives.

Sirul, who has always said he was following orders, admits being involved in the kidnapping of Altantuyaa but swears he took no part in her murder, said he has been made a scapegoat and was the victim of “political games” in Malaysia.

He also apologised to Altantuyaa’s family and asked for their forgiveness.

At the time he was part of the police security detail for defence minister and deputy prime minister Najib Razak, who would go on to become prime minister. Najib was jailed for corruption in 2022 for 12 years.

The slaying has long been the subject of great suspicion in Malaysia. Altantuyaa had been having an affair with political advisor Abdul Razak Baginda, a close associate of Najib, and it has been speculated that she was killed to prevent her going public about alleged kickbacks received as part of a $US1.2 billion ($1.8 billion) Malaysian deal to buy French Scorpene-class submarines.

Azilah, who remains on death row in Malaysia, previously alleged that Najib had given the order to kill Altantuyaa, claiming he had said she was a foreign spy and a threat to national security.

There are 1318 prisoners awaiting the death penalty in Malaysia but the country has not carried out a sentence since 2017 and has had a moratorium on executions since 2018.

Najib consistently and publicly denied any knowledge of the murder, or even having met Altantuyaa, before he was jailed over the $US4.5 billion ($6.8 billion) 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

Sirul has also remained tight-lipped on one of Malaysia’s biggest and most closely guarded secrets. He said for years Malaysians have wanted to know.

“But until now, I cannot tell”.

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