MANILA: Several newspapers are reporting that Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (pic) alias Marwan was alive contrary to a claim by Philippines Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas that there was a high likelihood he was killed.
“They did not get Marwan, he’s still alive,” Manila Standard Today quoted Absalom Cerveza, a spokesman of the Moro National Liberation Front as saying.
His MNLF members have been closely monitoring the “very fluid situation” in Mindanao.
Cerveza said former MNLF rebels, who have contacts in both Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its renegade faction Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), were reporting that Marwan was no longer in the area during the early Sunday raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that resulted in the death of 44 police commandos.
“It’s anybody’s guess,” Cerveza said when asked if he had an idea where Marwan was now, “but my contacts reiterated that Marwan was not in the area when the assault occurred.”
He said the police’s Special Action Force raid was apparently based on information from an asset, who had proven to be accurate and reliable in previous operations, that Marwan would be in Mamasapano on that day.
“Days before the attack, Marwan could have been in the area,” Cerveza said, “but he must have moved out even before the fighting.”
Cerveza said the police asset was also killed in the fighting so it was very hard to determine whether the Mamasapano incident was really a “mis-encounter” as claimed by Roxas or was planned by the BIFF.
He said they had gathered that the police withdrew after they clashed with members of the BIFF, but they unintentionally withdrew to an area where there were MILF troops, which was what officials meant when they used the term “mis-encounter.”
Even the MILF, which had repeatedly denied coddling Marwan or even knowing his whereabouts, declined to confirm government claims that the Malaysian terrorist was killed in the clash.
“We could not confirmed nor deny that Marwan died in that encounter and we have no information he was ever in our folds when the fighting transpired as others sectors claim,” said MILF peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.
But in a press briefing Tuesday morning, Roxas insisted that there was a “high likelihood” Marwan was killed in the operation.
Roxas said nearly 400 highly-trained policemen took part in the operation in Mamasapano to arrest Marwan but were ambushed.
The Philippines Star also quoted a former military intelligence officer as saying that Marwan was able to escape the police raid in his hideout in Mamasapano.
“Marwan was able to escape before police operatives raided his hideout,” said the officer who was not named by the newspaper.
The officer said his assets have been tracking Marwan in Manila where they were supposed to carry out a bomb attack on the papal convoy last Jan. 18 in Rizal Park.
Marwan and his three cohorts were not able to carry out their mission because of the heavy rains and the lack of cell phone signals to trigger their remote controlled bombs, he said.
After the aborted attack on Pope Francis, Marwan returned to Maguindanao where he was almost cornered, claimed the officer.
The paper also quoted MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla as saying that Marwan was spotted in Lanao del Sur in the company of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) guerrillas.
Fontanilla said an MNLF field commander reported that Marwan was seen in a BIFF camp in Maguindanao.
“The high value target of was not in the area when the raid took place,” he added.
Fontanilla said Marwan, who is fluent in various dialects in Mindanao, has supporters in hinterland communities.
The newspaper quoted sources said that a US$5-million reward on Marwan has attracted many bounty hunters to help the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) track him down.
Zulkifli, among the United States’s most wanted militants, is a bombmaker for the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group which staged the 2002 bombings in Bali that claimed 202 lives, and other deadly attacks in southeast Asia.
The authorities have long sought Marwan with a US$5million bounty on his head and declarations of his death have proved premature in the past.Marwan was reported killed in a military bombing in 2012 in Jolo island in southern Philippines but he resurfaced alive with the MILF and BIFF group in Mindanoa two months later.