When gunmen roamed the streets of Singapore: A showdown at Jalan Kubor

23 01 2010

Having mentioned in my post on the old Protestant Cemetery in Penang that I wasn’t particularly fond of wandering around cemeteries, I found myself drawn to another cemetery while passing through the part of Victoria Street near Kampong Glam one day. As I looked out at Jalan Kubor from the safety of the car, I remembered an incident that happened at the cemetery there when I was a boy of eight,  that had somehow left a lasting impression on me. In the incident, the final scene of what was a real-life drama had been played out at the Madrasah Aljunied Cemetery at Jalan Kubor. This involved two of Singapore’s most dangerous criminals, Abdul Wahab and Mustapha, the Hassan brothers on a December’s evening in 1972. Cornered at their hideout at the cemetery and desperate and outnumbered during what was to be a final confrontation with the police on the 16 December 1972, Wahab shot his younger brother and turned the gun on himself, bringing an end to a one and a half month long reign of terror which had begun with Wahab’s escape from Changi Prison where he was being held for armed robbery.

Jalan Kubor which literally means “Grave Road” in Malay.

The Hassan brothers were behind a gun smuggling syndicate set up together with a few others in October of 1972 and along with several accomplices, staged a series of daring armed robberies at several petrol stations in the Bukit Timah area as well as at a goldsmith’s shop in Geylang. In the period that followed leading up to their last stand at Jalan Kubor, the two had several encounters with the police, including a shootout at Labrador Park during which a policeman and Mustapha himself were shot, and a successful rescue attempt staged by Wahab to free Mustapha from police custody while he was being treated at Outram Hospital just a few days prior to the brothers deaths. The latter incident also involved the abduction of a taxi driver and a policeman.

The Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah Cemetery off Jalan Kubor and Victoria Street was where two gunmen met their deaths in 1972.

The early 1970s seemed to have had more than a fair share of gunmen. Many of these gunmen, as with the Hassan brothers, did not have second thoughts when it came to pulling the trigger. Shootouts between the gunmen and the police were all too frequent. One that involved another gunman on the run, Ng Ah Bai, in April 1973, saw a police detective killed. Closer to home in July 1970, a gunman Tan Chian Lai also known as Hun Cher, shot himself, after being cornered in a flat in Block 64 Toa Payoh. A massive manhunt had been launched for the reportedly trigger happy Tan, who had killed a watch dealer in a robbery at a shop in North Bridge Road. Just a few weeks before the showdown at Jalan Kubor, another notorious gunman, Lim Ban Lim, had been shot dead by police in a gun battle in Margaret Drive after being on the run for nine years, getting away with $2.5 million during that time. The alarming rise in such incidents led to the introduction of harsh penalties for gun offences – new laws were passed in 1973 stipulating a mandatory death penalty for anyone using or attempting to use a firearm to cause injury.

While trying to find out a bit more about the cemetery, I also stumbled upon an article relating to the exhumation of the grave of a certain Ngah Ibrahim, which reportedly was located in the cemetery. Ngah Ibrahim, originally from Perak, was notable for a fortune made from the tin mines of Perak and as the headman of Larut. He was apparently implicated in the assassination of the first British resident to Perak, James Birch and sent by the British into exile in the Seychelles, before ending up in Singapore, where he died in 1895.

in April 1973