BIFF: We don’t have Usman
DAVAO CITY, Philippines—The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Sunday denied it was coddling terrorist Basit Usman, whose turnover to the government by Moro rebels President Aquino has demanded, following the deaths of 44 elite police commandos in a clash in Maguindanao province more than a week ago.
Aquino asked the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday to yield Usman if some of its commanders were coddling the terrorist or help the government get him or clear the way for government security forces to capture him if he was in territory within its control.
The MILF received Aquino’s message in time for the resumption of peace talks between the MILF and the government in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, during which the two sides agreed on the guidelines for the decommissioning of MILF weapons and fighters as part of the peace agreement they signed last year.
On Saturday, Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF negotiator, told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur that the MILF could not turn over Usman to the government because the group did not have the terrorist who had a $3-million price on his head.
Iqbal said Usman was “with the BIFF.”
On Sunday, Abu Misri Mama, a spokesman for the BIFF, said he had not seen Usman or Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, in Maguindanao. Marwan was the Malaysian terrorist killed by the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in Pidsandawan village in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, in a covert operation on Jan. 25.
Usman, the secondary target of the SAF operation, escaped when BIFF fighters attacked the police assault force.
The assault team shot its way out of the village, but a bigger group of commandos providing cover for the team encountered MILF guerrillas and lost 44 members in an 11-hour gun battle.
Public anger over the deaths of the policemen prompted Aquino’s demand that the Moro rebels surrender Usman, a known bombmaker for the BIFF, a splinter group of the MILF.
But Mama said the BIFF did not have Usman and claimed Marwan had never been in BIFF or MILF territory.
“Marwan is only a creation of the government and the [United States] to justify their intrusion into Moro areas,” he said.
He said the reports that Marwan was killed by the SAF commandos were false and that the published picture of a dead Marwan was a fabrication intended “to justify the defeat” of the SAF in Mamasapano.
“They manufactured that photo,” Mama said.
In September last year, the BIFF claimed that it had established an alliance with the Islamic State (IS), the jihadist group that had seized swaths of Syria and Iraq, and that it had direct communication with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader.
The claim was followed by fresh, though unconfirmed, reports that Marwan was training BIFF members in bombmaking in Maguindanao.
But Mama, speaking to the Inquirer at the time, said there were no foreigners in BIFF territories. “There are no foreigners here with us. There is no Marwan here. You should ask the MILF instead,” he said.
He said the alliance with IS did not mean the BIFF was training members prior to sending them to fight jihadist wars in the Middle East.
“There is no truth to the reports that we have sent fighters to Syria and Iraq. We do not need to train there because our training grounds in Mindanao is enough already,” Mama said.
After the clash in Mamasapano last week, Mama said the BIFF got into the fighting only because the SAF intruded into the territory of the BIFF’s 1st Brigade.
He denied that Marwan was in the area.
Surrender them all
Jesus Dureza, a spokesman for former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, on Sunday urged the MILF to surrender remaining terrorists hiding in its territory and the three commanders tagged in the killings of the 44 SAF commandos.
Dureza, who also served as adviser on the peace process, told the Inquirer in a telephone interview that it was the only way for the MILF to show its sincerity in pursuing peace and to regain the public’s trust.
“Ignorance about the presence of terrorists in their territory is not an excuse,” he said. “If the MILF is really willing to help, they can just step aside and allow the military to get these people.”
“They must arrest Usman and turn him over to the government. They must cleanse their ranks and show to the people they have full control over their forces,” he added.
Originally posted: 5:21 PM | Sunday, February 1st, 2015
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