JERTIH, TERENGGANU, Wed. – Fifty-nine members of the Sky Kingdom sect were detained by state Religious Affairs Department (JHEAT) officers today.
However, leader Ariffin Mohamad, 65, better known as “Ayah Pin”, escaped the dragnet. He was not at the sect’s compound at the time of the raid.
Thirty women, including a New Zealander and four children aged between one and five, were among those picked up.
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The raiding party, comprising about 70 personnel in 20 vehicles, including four police trucks, entered the Sky Kingdom, located at Kampung Batu 13 in Hulu Besut at 10.15am.
However, reporters had seen personnel of the JHEAT entering the Sky Kingdom as early as 8am.
The first batch of 22 followers was ferried to a bus on the access road about 10.45am.
The second batch, including a New Zealander identified as Judith Lilian McDonald, was led out of the compound about 15 minutes later.
Judith had converted to Islam on marrying an Indonesian some time ago.
At 11.05am, a third batch of followers was taken to a bus. The last batch of 10 people, comprising seven women, a man and two children, was taken away at 11.35am.
The followers were taken to the Besut district police station in Kampung Raja, some 30km from the compound.
State Islam Hadhari Development Committee deputy chairman Muhammad Ramli Nuh said the detainees were denied bail after their statements were recorded.
It is learnt that the male detainees would spend a night at the district police station while the women and children will stay at the Jerteh police lockup.
“The followers are expected to be charged at the Besut Syariah Court tomorrow under Section 10 of the Syariah Criminal Offence Enactment (Takzir) 2001 for not adhering to the state fatwa (edict) which had ruled the teachings as deviant.”
“Ayah Pin will not escape detention,” he said.
“He is our prime target and we will not stop searching until we get him.”
Ramli said Ariffin should not run as he had claimed he had done nothing wrong.
“So why is he running away from the authorities?
“If he believes that he is innocent, then come forward.”
Twenty-one sect members were detained by the JHEAT and police on July 2, but were later released on bail.
On Monday, a mob of 50 people torched several structures and damaged vehicles and wooden houses at the sect’s compound.
We have no other home, say children
“We don’t know where to go. Most of us were born here. This place is our home.”
So said one of the more than 20 children still residing at “Sky Kingdom” in Kampung Batu 13, Hulu Besut, after their parents were rounded up by the authorities.
“We don’t know what to do but wait,” said the 17-year-old girl, who did not want to be named.
She was among a group of children, aged between one and 19, who were spotted making traditional sweets in a barn behind a row of wooden houses in the commune today.
It is learnt that the sweets are sold by some of sect leader Ariffin Mohamad’s followers in Jertih for extra income.
Our reporters noted that there was not a single adult in sight during a visit to the commune today.
The girl said some of the teenagers, including a 19-year-old married woman, were not rounded up so they could “stay behind and prepare food for us”.
“We did not choose to be followers of the sect,” she said. “Our parents chose this path. We were brought up in the commune.
“We are labelled as followers but people must understand that this was not our decision.”
The girl said there was enough water and food. “The authorities are also helping us.”
The commune was like a ghost town, heavily guarded by General Operations Force personnel.