By Razak Ahmad and Gan Pei Ling © The Star 13 August 2017
Thirty years ago, a soldier armed with an assault rifle ran amok in Kuala Lumpur. The case created an urban legend linking the rampage to a rumour against a Sultan that has never been properly addressed until now. A book based on interviews with key figures involved in the case shines a light on what really happened.
ON Oct 17, 1987, Adam Jaafar, a 23-year-old soldier with the rank of Prebet, stole an M16 rifle and a motorcycle from his army camp in Ipoh.
The army Ranger Regiment sharpshooter travelled to Kuala Lumpur at a time when political tension was high. The next night, he wrote a message on his hotel room mirror: “A damned night for Adam. Mission: to kill or be killed.”
He left his hotel and went on a shooting spree in the city’s Chow Kit area that left one person dead from a bullet ricochet and several others wounded.
Prebet Adam shot at cars and at a petrol station fuel tank which burst into flames. He eventually surrendered and at his trial, his lawyer argued a defence of temporary insanity.
The case gave rise to one of Malaysia’s most enduring urban legends – that his rampage was allegedly an act of revenge for the death of his younger brother at the hands of the then Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Rumours went around back then that Adam’s brother was supposedly a golf caddy who had laughed when Sultan Iskandar Ibni Almarhum Sultan Ismail of Johor missed a shot.
The late Sultan had supposedly hit Adam’s brother on the head with a golf club and the caddy died, according to the rumour.
It’s been three decades but the urban legend still survives, spread at first by word of mouth, then on the Internet.
Google the case and one will get a long list of results drawn from blog entries and Facebook comments, with some insisting it is true.
The urban legend on what drove Adam to run amok was raised at a forum on Monday night to discuss a book written about the case.
“It’s true Prebet Adam has a younger sibling who died, but it was a sister, who died in a fire when they were children.
“Prebet Adam did not have any sibling who died at a golf course,” said Syahril A. Kadir, the author.
His book, Konfesi Prebet Adam, was published last year by DuBook Press Sdn Bhd. It was followed by an English translation, “Amok at Chow Kit”, last month.
The book is based on interviews with key figures in the case. It includes first person accounts by Adam himself, his lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and Leftenan Jeneral (R) Datuk Abdul Ghani Abdullah, the military officer who managed to persuade Adam to surrender.
Syahril, Shafee and Abdul Ghani were present at the forum but notably absent was Adam himself.
Copies of various documents are also in the book. Most striking is a signed statutory declaration by Adam in which he denied having a sibling who worked as a caddy in a golf club and who was apparently hit by Sultan Iskandar.
If the late Sultan of Johor had nothing to do with triggering Adam’s rampage, what did?
The answer lies in Adam’s traumatic childhood and abuse he later suffered in the army camp which drove him over the edge.
Adam grew up in extreme poverty. And when he was 11, he witnessed the death of his six-year-old sister Azimah during a fire that razed their squatter home in Simpang Lelong, Penang.
“She was just a few steps away from us, when suddenly the roof gave in and fell heavily on her small body,” Adam recounted to Syahril in the book.
“Azimah was found by the firemen underneath all the rubble in a devastating condition.
“One of her arms and legs were torn from her body. I could not bear to talk about the rest of her remains. My heart hurts at the thought of the pain my sister must have felt,” Adam added.
He suffered a head injury when a beam fell on him during the fire. Earlier in his teens, he suffered a wound to his head when he got into a fight in which he got hacked with a machete that left him with a three-inch scar.
Being accepted into the army brought the promise of a better future for the depressed young man.
Adam was desperate for a life of dignity but his joy over being in the army was shortlived. Having spent some time in the reserve army, Adam expected some ragging by seniors. But he did not expect the sadistic brutality they would resort to.
“My hands got burn marks from being treated as a human ashtray. I was forced to lick the bottom of a slipper like a dog and drink water mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, belacan, curry and sugar,” he recalled.
Some of his seniors would also bring their civilian friends to witness it.
He was beaten up regularly. The last straw was when his tormentors forced him to perform oral sex on one of the soldiers.
During Adam’s trial, psychiatrist Tan Sri Dr M. Mahadevan, who would examine Adam and testify in court during his three-year trial between 1988 and 1990, explained how Adam’s childhood trauma, head injuries and brutal abuse in camp had affected his mental state.
Justice Datuk Seri Shaik Daud Md Ismail in his verdict ruled that Adam was not of sound mind when he committed the shooting.
He ordered Adam to be sent for treatment at a mental hospital where he was kept for close to 10 years.
The former soldier insists that he is not seeking public sympathy by telling his life story.
What he hopes is to dispel the urban legend, clear the names of those unfairly implicated and apologise to the kin and family of the late Che Soh Che Mahmud, the young man he accidentally killed during his rampage.
“I apologise from the bottom of my heart for what had happened. I swear by the name of Allah, I never intended to shoot him.”
He has also forgiven his abusers in the army, who were subsequently tried by a court martial, found guilty, and sentenced to prison.
“To the officers who demeaned and abused me when I was in camp, I forgive them and everything they had done.
“I just hope they realise that they can do whatever it takes to produce strong and excellent soldiers, but never deny them their dignity, love and pride they have in beloved Malaysia,” said Adam.
PREBET Adam Jaafar owes his life to two key individuals.
If it was not for Leftenan Jeneral (R) Datuk Abdul Ghani Abdullah who persuaded Adam to surrender peacefully, he could have been killed during his standoff with the police on Oct 19, 1987. And if it was not for his defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah who convinced the judge he was not of sound mind when he ran amok, Adam might have been doomed for the gallows.
Abdul Ghani was the Assistant Commander for the Ground Forces Operation when he received news of a soldier going on a rampage in Chow Kit.
By the time he arrived near Wisma Sabaruddin where Adam had hid himself, sharp-shooters from the police force had positioned themselves around the vicinity.
Abdul Ghani tried using a loud hailer to persuade Adam to surrender but to no avail.
Undeterred, Abdul Ghani told Adam that his family and girlfriend wanted him to stop the madness. He volunteered to meet Adam alone.
He sent back an army officer who tried to follow him into Wisma Sabaruddin to protect him.
When he came face-to-face with Adam, he took off his bullet-proof vest to gain his trust. He addressed Adam as a Ranger.
“This act softened his heart and demeanour little by little. During the negotiation, Adam looked lost, scared and confused,” Abdul Ghani recalled in the book Konfesi Prebet Adam authored by Syahril A. Kadir.
Shafee, who is a former student of the Royal Military College (RMC), said he decided to take on Adam’s case pro bono after getting a call from a fellow lawyer and officer in the army reserve.
Shafee would spend more than RM100,000 on Adam’s case, including to hire experts like psychiatrist Tan Sri Dr M. Mahadevan to defend Adam.
“I took on Adam’s case as it was a big challenge and because he would have been hanged if I didn’t help him,” Shafee said, adding that as a former RMC student, he felt he had a responsibility to do what he could to help a military man in trouble.
One of the biggest mysteries about the case has been about the urban legend that linked the rampage to the then Sultan of Johor. This was not true.
How then, did the urban legend come about?
In the book, Adam in his own words claimed that he first heard of the allegation during a police interrogation that baffled him until now.
“Every time I was interrogated, it was always prefaced with ‘I pity you, Adam… it was because of the Agong that you’re in this state,” Adam recalled.
He did not identify who the interrogators were but explained that when he finally gave in and began nodding to the officers’ questions to implicate the royalty, the officers began theorising that his rampage was a conspiracy.
Adam claimed to the author of the book that the interrogators theorised that the conspiracy was orchestrated.
“They alleged that individuals were behind my action in a bid to divert public attention away from the problems that were plaguing the Malaysian leadership at that time,” the book quoted Adam as saying.
Asked about the conspiracy theory, Shafee said the matter was never raised in court by the prosecution. The defence also did not raise the issue.
Shafee said Adam could not remember a lot of what happened due to his state of mind at the time, and his defence partly relied on this.
“If we showed that Adam could remember such details about the interrogation, it could have prejudiced his defence.”
Shafee said that Adam’s case was investigated by the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and that his case also involved the Internal Security Act.
“It was not the CID who were asking questions about the conspiracy.
“It was as if there was an attempt to create a presumption and plant the idea in Adam’s head that his brother was supposedly killed by the then Sultan of Johor.
“The person or people who tried to put this idea in Adam’s head knew he already had a problem with his state of mind, so someone took advantage of this.”
Shafee said after Adam’s release from Tanjung Rambutan, Adam would look him up whenever he had a case in Penang.
He said there are lessons to be learnt from the case, including the importance of listening to both sides of the story.
“To me, Adam is a victim of circumstance; all he wanted was to be good soldier but he was bullied to such an extent.”