One little-mentioned fact in the raging public indignation over the apparent massacre of at least 40 members of the Philippine National Police – Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) last January 25 is that the police forces were actually after two so-called “high-value targets” hiding in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
The two were Jemaah Islamiyah-affiliated terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir, a Malaysian, and Abdul Basit Usman, a bomb-making expert linked to Abu Sayyaf.
Also known as “Marwan,” Abdhir has long been regarded by the United States (US) government’s as a “specially-designated global terrorist.” A US-trained engineer, international authorities say he’s been hiding in southern Mindanao since 2003.
In 2007, Abdhir together with an elder brother was indicted on terrorism-related charges by a court in the Northern District of California. Read this press release issued by the US Department of Justice at that time for more information.
The US State Department is offering a bounty of $5 million to informants that may aid in the capture of “Marwan” through its “Rewards for Justice” program. The media is reporting that he may have been killed during the January 25 firefight, but it is not yet confirmed.
For his part, Usman is described by US authorities as a bomb-making expert with links to both Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah. A reward of up to $1 million is being offered for information leading to his arrest.
“Basit is believed to have orchestrated several bombings that have killed, injured, and maimed many innocent civilians,” his entry on the Rewards for Justice program states. He is said to have eluded police forces during the January 25 encounter.
As noted in a previous post, PNP-SAF appears to have conducted the botched operation without adequate coordination with local officials in Maguindanao, the MILF, as well as their counterparts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
In an interview with MindaNews.com, Fr. Eliseo Mercado, former president of the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City and a member of the Independent Fact-Finding Body of the GPH-MILF peace process during the Estrada administration, said the police officers’ fixation on the reward money being offered by the US government is the main reason behind the series of misjudgments that led to the fatal armed encounter last Sunday.
He even went as far as describing the tragedy as “a money-making operation that went afoul.”