|(Umbra Kato-BIFF Leader and Marwan-FBI Most Wanted Terrorist)|
MANILA, Philippines - Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir has been operating and running the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist cell in the Philippines from as early as 2000 until he was killed by the police in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last month.
Zulkifli, also known as Marwan, had been training Muslim rebels in bomb making and demolition operations.
Among those who trained under Marwan were members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Abu Sayyaf.
Intelligence reports obtained by The STAR showed that despite the signing of the peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF on Oct. 7, 2012, the rebel group continued stockpiling arms and training at Camp Uato, Sitio Barit, Barangay Uato in Marawi City.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misri has been boasting in various radio and television broadcasts of the group’s direct alliance with Islamic State (IS) extremists as well as the Abu Sayyaf under Isnilon Hapilon, and that they were trained by Marwan to manufacture improvised explosive devices in Maguindanao and in Lanao del Norte.
An instructors’ training for the BIFF at Barangay Pilis in Talayan, a few kilometers from Mamasapano in Maguindanao held during the third week of July 2012 was supervised by a relative of Marwan.
It was also reported that aside from the BIFF, some 40 fighters of the MILF 105th Base Command also finished their basic military training course held at Barangay Libutan in Mamasapano in July 2012.
Both the MILF and the BIFF rebels controlled surrounding villages in the area.
“The MILF and the BIFF literally controlled inner areas in Mamasapano and most of the adjacent villages of other towns in the complex that it was highly impossible for them not to know Marwan’s presence within their very own enclave,” one senior security official said.
This was his response to the MILF’s firm denial that they did not know Marwan’s whereabouts, claimed that he was highly mobile.
Marwan was hiding at Barangay Pidsandawan when the police Special Action Force raided the hut he was staying in and killed him before dawn last Jan. 25.
The operation to neutralize Marwan, however, came at a heavy price, with 44 SAF commandos killed by combined MILF and BIFF rebels in the fighting that ensued.
While there is no official confirmation from the BIFF of knowing Marwan’s presence in their area, sustained anti-terrorism intelligence monitoring showed the slain Jemaah Islamiyah militant had been moving from one place to another in Maguindanao as well as in Lanao del Norte.
Marwan was even photographed sitting beside with the already sick BIFF founder Ameril Umbra Kato when a group of Arab and local jihadists with links to the IS paid him a visit at his enclave at Barangay Pilis in Talayan town, a couple of kilometers from Mamasapano.
The towns of Shariff Saidona and Datu Saudi, located between Talayan and Mamasapano, have been classified by government security forces as the “loitering area” of Muslim and private armed groups.
Marwan and his Filipino cohort Basit Usman have trained hundreds of militants in explosives and bomb making.
Security officials pointed out Marwan’s “graduates,” estimated at around 300 militants, have been scattered around Mindanao and are possibly now hiding in Metro Manila.
Following the killing of Marwan, there is a big possibility that his graduates would stage retaliatory attacks in Metro Manila.
The 18,000-strong National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) has remained on heightened alert to prevent this, a ranking police official said yesterday.
NCRPO chief Director Carmelo Valmoria clarified they have not received any intelligence information that Marwan’s “disciples” would stage retaliatory attacks in Metro Manila, but he ordered his men to track them down as a preventive measure.
Valmoria alerted the five police district directors in Metro Manila of such possibility as he ordered them to coordinate with elders of Muslim communities to report immediately the presence of Marwan’s “students” once they are spotted.
Valmoria also ordered the close monitoring of airports, seaports and bus terminals to detect the possible entry of Marwan’s graduates. – Non Alquitran