MANILA: Capturing Zulkifli Hir, the Malaysian terrorist bomb maker known as Marwan, was a “mission impossible,” an officer who was part of the Special Action Force (SAF) said.
Several missions to capture Marwan since 2010 had been aborted, for one reason or another. On the weekend of Jan 24 to 25, the SAF finally got close enough.
“One officer in front of me tripped into a booby trap Marwan set up. That woke him up. His security elements were alarmed. We fired at him. But he also opened fire with an M16,” the officer said, requesting for anonymity.
In the exchange of fire, Marwan kept shouting, “Allahu Akbar! (Allah is great!).”
He died with those words on his lips.
“We cut off his finger because we had no time to do the retinal scanning for the iris recognition for his DNA. We were under heavy fire. We had to get out immediately,” the officer said.
The height of the gun battle between the SAF troopers and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) was a “nightmare” for the police.
The officer recalled how the BIFF taunted them. When the rebels from the MILF splinter group were just 30 to 40 metres away, they laughed at the troopers and threatened them.
He said military artillery finally deployed white phosphorous to give the troopers cover as preparation for the “call for fire” procedure. “After that, they dispersed. They knew that a high explosive will go off next.”
He estimated more than 300 BIFF and MILF members attacked them “based on the weapon and artillery they used.”
“We always had the advantage in our previous missions. But at that time, we were really outnumbered. But we’re never outfought,” he said.
Forty-four troopers died in Mamasapano as well as at least 18 MILF rebels and five civilians.
Justice will be served for their 44 “brothers,” the officer said, if the MILF and BIFF would surrender their commanders “responsible for the brutal killing.”
SAF men have thought of getting back at the rebels. But the officer said they would avenge the death of the 44 by taking down Marwan’s Filipino protege, Basit Usman.
“The best retaliation is to get Basit Usman.
"In time we’ll get him,” he said, adding that SAF troopers are doubtful that the Moro groups will surrender the Filipino bomb-maker.
But the officer said all-out war against the rebels would not solve the long-standing conflict in Mindanao.
Asked if he’s willing to lay his life down for another mission, he said: “Yes. It’s our only legacy to the Filipino people. If we will not do it, who else will do it?”
He said he would not call the slain troopers the “Fallen 44,” as mainstream media depicts them.
“May we remember the 44 men not as the Fallen 44, for to fall means to fail. We didn’t, they didn’t. It is better to remember them as the Gallant 44 or the Brave 44 for they exemplified these traits until their last breath. To honour them, I hope that the heart of a warrior, the heart of every SAF trooper shall beat more strongly than ever.” - Philippines Daily Inquirer/ANN