But who killed Abdul Basit Usman?
The military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) confirmed on Monday that terrorist Abdul Basit Usman is dead, but who killed him remains unclear.
Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, told reporters that Usman and five bodyguards were killed in a shootout with fellow members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Sitio (settlement) Takeneken in Barangay (village) Muti, Guindulungan, Maguindanao province, around 10 a.m. on Sunday.
But Ghazali Jaafar, vice chair for political affairs of the MILF, said Usman was killed in a fire fight with members of the MILF’s 118th Base Command led by Commander Barok in Muti.
“We can confirm that Usman is dead and his body was buried in accordance with Muslim tradition,” Jaafar said, but refused to say who killed Usman.
Jaafar said there were two versions of the report about Usman’s death and that the MILF was investigating to determine which one was correct.
“The first version says that Usman was killed in a chance encounter with Commander Barok, while the second version says that Usman was captured by the MILF and the plan was to present him to the Central Committee but he tried to escape and fought back, that was why he was shot. But these are not yet conclusive and we will wait for the final report,” Jaafar said.
Reports reaching military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, indicated that the site of the fire fight was near Camp Afghan, a temporary relocation site for MILF members who voluntarily vacated their homes to clear the way for a military operation against the BIFF in February.
Quoting from the reports, Catapang said there was infighting among the followers of Usman over the $1 million reward offered by the United States for Usman’s capture.
Usman, accused of repeated bomb attacks in the South, left the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM), a splinter of the BIFF, last month to rejoin the BIFF after three relatives were killed in clashes with the military, the reports said.
Distrustful of his followers
Catapang cited reports that Usman became distrustful of some of his own followers in the JIM after a series of encounters between his group and the military in the last two months.
Usman, a bomb maker with links to the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian affiliate of the global terrorist organization al-Qaida, became the most wanted terrorist in the Philippines after the killing of Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” in a botched police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25.
Usman was a secondary target of the Special Action Force (SAF) operation but he and Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco, alias “Jihad,” escaped when rebels from the BIFF and the MILF clashed with the police commandos.
Forty-four SAF commandos, 17 MILF rebels and three civilians were killed in the daylong gun battle, setting back the peace process between the government and the MILF.
An angry President Aquino demanded that the MILF arrest Usman or clear the way for a military operation to get the terrorist.
According to the military, the operation limited the movements of Usman and his followers.
A military source said that government agents infiltrated Usman’s group and recruited one of his bodyguards to the government side.
The source said the bodyguard became a military asset and on Sunday, while Usman was listening to a radio broadcast of the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. bout in Las Vegas, Nevada, in his hut in Takeneken, the asset shot the terrorist with a pistol, killing him.
Apparently, the asset managed to recruit some of Usman’s bodyguards, the source said, as he had help in fighting off Usman’s loyal followers who responded after hearing the shot.
The military source said five bodyguards of Usman were killed and one was wounded in the exchange of gunfire.
The source said the gunfire attracted the attention of members of the MILF’s 118th Base Command, who rushed to Takeneken and found the bodies.
It was unclear whether the MILF fighters engaged Usman’s remaining bodyguards, the source said, adding that there were reports that another MILF group, the 106th Base Command, was also claiming to have killed Usman.
A picture obtained by the Inquirer showed the body of Usman in a hammock, covered but with the face, upper body and hands exposed.
A military source said the MILF fighters took Usman’s fingerprints.
MILF cooperation cited
Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the military’s 6th Infantry Division, acknowledged that there were different versions of Usman’s killing and said the military was verifying which version was correct.
But what is important, Petinglay said, is that Usman is dead and that the military operation to get him succeeded because the government, the MILF and the community refused to give space to him.
Aware of the infighting in Usman’s camp over the bounty, Petinglay said: “It is not just about the reward. Usman’s men turned on him because they do not see a future in what they are doing. They do not have many options anymore.”
Aside from the $1 million offered by the United States, the Philippine government also put up a bounty of P6.3 million for the capture of Usman.
Usman, who hailed from General Santos City, was also known as Ahkmad. It is not known how he came to be called Abdul Basit, an honorific that means Servant of God.
Military thanks MILF
Catapang thanked the MILF for helping the government get Usman.
“It is important to note that aside from helping the government in neutralizing Usman, the MILF provided valuable information that led to the arrest of prominent BIFF leaders such as Mohammad Ali Tambako and Esmael Paga,” Catapang said.
He also said that it was through the MILF’s cooperation that the Army succeeded in demolishing bomb factories and terrorist hideouts near MILF communities in Mindanao.
“The recent accomplishment shows the MILF’s sincerity in supporting the peace process by actively helping the government in flushing out the terrorists from their former safe havens,” Catapang said.
Jaafar said Usman’s death showed that the MILF had been doing its part in maintaining peace and order in the area, as agreed with the government.
“Usman’s death is proof that the MILF is sincere in its efforts to strictly abide by the provisions of the ceasefire [agreement],” Jaafar said.
Chief government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer lauded the MILF for cooperating with state security forces.
“This most recent development reflects what can be effectively achieved through cooperation against criminal and other security threats, within the framework of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” Ferrer said in a text message to the Inquirer.
Ferrer said the death of Usman would clear doubts about the MILF’s commitment to the peace process. She urged lawmakers to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would establish a new autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao.–With a report from AFP
Infighting over $1-M bounty seen behind Usman killing – AFP
Bomber Basit Usman killed by MILF
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