Sultan Esmail Kiram II: Leader of a sultanate that sparked a crisis with its invasion of the Malaysian state of Sabah in 2013

Kiram led the sultanate since the early 2000s, backed by an elder brother, Jamalul

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The Independent Online

Sultan Esmail Kiram II was the leader of a sultanate in the southern Philippines that staged a 2013 invasion of a bustling Malaysian state and sparked a deadly security crisis.

Although largely dismissed as a vestige from a bygone era, Kiram's Muslim sultanate, based in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, stirred up a crisis between Malaysia and the Philippines when his younger brother and about 200 followers, dozens of them armed, barged into Sabah's coastal village of Lahad Datu in February 2013.

Malaysia sent troops and launched airstrikes in weeks of sporadic fighting that killed dozens of people before the stand-off died down. Kiram's brother, who led the invasion, returned to the southern Philippines, where he died last year of a heart attack.

Malaysia has governed the resource-rich Sabah region of timber lands and palm oil plantations in northern Borneo as its second-largest federal state since the 1960s. The Kirams claim that Sabah has belonged to their sultanate for centuries and was only leased to Malaysia, which they claim pays them a paltry annual rent. Malaysians maintain that the payments are part of an arrangement under which the sultanate ceded 28,000 square miles of Sabah territory to them.

The Kiram sultanate, which emerged in the 1400s, became legendary for its far-reaching influence and its feared Tausug warriors. Chinese and European leaders once sent vassals to pay homage. The Sulu sultanate preceded the Philippines and Malaysia by centuries.

Overrun by history, however, the Kirams now carry royal titles and nothing much else. The sultanate has about 75,000 followers in Sulu and outlying islands that are among the country's poorest regions and are troubled by Muslim rebels, al-Qaida-linked extremists and outlaws. Kiram had led the sultanate since the early 2000s, backed by an elder brother, Jamalul, who died in 2013.

Sultan Esmail Kiram II, religious leader: born 1939; died 19 September 2015.