KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 (Xinhua) -- Agbimuddin Kiram, who has led a deadly standoff with Malaysian security forces in Sabah state, is believed to have fled the country, police said Saturday.
Sabah police chief Hamza Taib said evidence suggested Agbimuddin might have fled sometime on Tuesday or Wednesday and back to southern Philippines, possibly hiding in one of islands off Tawi-Tawi of southern Philippines, less than one hour boat trip to the east coast of Sabah.
Malaysian Armed Forces chief Zulkifeli Mohd Zin said earlier that Agbimuddin had abandoned his men and fled to his native southern Philippines.
Malaysian authorities are gathering evidence to extradite the Agbimuddin to Malaysia to face charges, Hamza said.
Agbimuddin led a group of some 200, including some heavily armed, to Sabah in early Feburary to stake a territorial claim over Sabah on behalf of his brother, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
In the Phillippines, Kiram's family denied that Agbimuddin had fled Malaysia, saying the announcement of Malaysian authorities was a mere "propaganda."
Agbimuddin has been hiding since Malaysian security forces launched an all-out operation on March 5 to flush out the gunmen. So far, at least 10 security forces personnel and more than 50 gunmen were killed during the month-long standoff.
Both Philippine and Malaysian navy have stepped up patrol in the border waters to intercept Sulu gunmen who either try to flee or get into Sabah.
Hamza told a press conference on Saturday that so far 104 have been arrested under Security Offences Act 2012, a new law used to arrest suspected terrorists, while 232 people are being held under different laws.
The authorities believe that less than 50 terrorists are still in the operation area.