KUALA LUMPUR - Supporters of an armed bid by Filipino intruders to lay claim to a Malaysian state took their campaign to cyberspace on Monday, manipulating Google search listings to show a message backing the incursion.
A Google search for the word "Sabah", the state at the centre of Malaysia's biggest security crisis in years, came back with a search results page that quotes "Wikipedia" calling Malaysian control of the state "illegitimate."
"Sabah is illegitimately considered one of the 13 member states of Malaysia, and is said to be its easternmost state but in fact, it is part of the Sultanate of Sulu," the passage read, shown in a box previewing the Wikipedia entry for Sabah.
Malaysians have been shocked by the militant incursion, which began when an estimated 100-300 people landed on the shores of Sabah on February 12, claiming the state for the heir to a former Philippine sultanate.
The website of Stamford College in Malaysia was apparently hacked at the weekend, its front page replaced by a message that said: "The time has come to reclaim what is truly ours."
"Sabah is owned by the Philippines, you illegally (sic) claiming it," it said.
Philippine news portals have said a number of sites in the country were hit by pro-Malaysia hackers.
A tense stand-off between the intruders and security forces who have them pinned down in the farming village of Tanduo erupted in a bloody firefight Friday that left 12 gunmen and two police officers dead.
Another gun battle erupted Saturday in Semporna, hours away from Tanduo by road, dramatically escalating tensions and raising the overall toll of reported dead to at least 18 militants and eight police officers.
Followers of the 74-year-old Manila-based Islamic leader, Jamalul Kiram III, say the gunmen are ready to die to defend his claim to Sabah, which was once controlled by the now-defunct sultanate.