Marwan’s last words
Last of three parts
MANILA, Philippines—The nipa hut where the target was sleeping was located in the middle of a vast cornfield in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, surrounded by coconut trees. Forty meters away was a mosque. The hut where the target’s Filipino protégé stayed was just 70 meters away.
Capturing Zulkifli Bin Hir, the Malaysian terrorist bomb maker known as Marwan, was a “mission impossible,” an officer who was part of the Special Action Force raiding team told this reporter. Several missions to capture Marwan since at least 2010 had been aborted, for one reason or another. On the weekend of January 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. (He requested anonymity to be able to speak freely.)
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.
BACKSTORY: Marwan finger cut off for DNA
Taunts from BIFF
The height of the gun battle between the SAF troopers and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., 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 meters away, they laughed at the troopers and threatened them.
“Ang tapang tapang niyo. Pumasok kayo dito. Uubusin namin kayo. Humanda kayo, may mga darating pang tropa (You’re so brave. You came in here. We will wipe you out. Get ready, we have more troops coming),” rebels shouted at the SAF troopers in the vernacular.
The officer recalled: “It was as if they were not feeling the pain. Then they would shout Allahu Akbar!”
At 6:30 p.m., 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 Moro Islamic Liberation Front 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.
Justice for SAF 44
All told, 44 troopers died in Mamasapano (and at least 18 MILF rebels and five civilians).
Justice will be served their 44 “brothers,” the officer said, if the MILF and BIFF would surrender their commanders “responsible for the brutal killing.”
“That’s also the call of their families. In the first place, bakit kailangan pang i-finish? Bakit kailangan pang babuyin at hubaran? Babarilin pa sa ulo. Some of them wala nang kamay at paa (Why finish off the wounded? Why dishonor the dead and undress them? Shot in the head. Some of them without hands or feet,” he lamented.
“Islam is not killing the brutal way. I think it was just their culture. This is not about their religion anymore. Naging barbaric na ang culture nila (their culture has become barbaric) just to prove they’re fearless,” the officer said.
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 won’t solve the long-standing conflict in Mindanao.
“All-out war was never the solution. Tayo ang talo dyan (It’s us who will lose there). Innocent civilians will be displaced. If the other party is not for peace, we have to show that we are really sincere,” he said.
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 honor them, I hope that the heart of a warrior, the heart of every SAF trooper shall beat more strongly than ever.”
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