‘Usman’s death a result of efforts to arrest criminals against peace’
DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) operation against suspected bomber Abdul Basit Usman was not triggered by the monetary reward for his capture, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said.
Iqbal said Usman was the subject of “a long standing order from chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim” and that MILF forces were told to get him, preferably alive.
He said the MILF regarded Usman as among personalities causing trouble in the peace process.
“The plan was to arrest and bring him to our main camp,” he said.
But Iqbal said Usman and his men fought back when being taken in by elements of the 118th Base Command on Sunday in Guindulungan, Maguindanao, last Sunday (May 3). He was subsequently killed, he said.
Asked if the MILF would get the reward the US government offered for Usman, Iqbal said the rebel group did not care about it.
He said the MILF was not after any reward as it only wanted to sustain the gains of the peace process by taking on armed groups that have been going against it, including that of Usman’s.
“The MILF will not sell the soul of the people. It is haram (prohibited),” Iqbal said by text message.
In Cotabato City, Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chair for political affairs of the MILF, said Usman and his men were being brought by members of the 118th Base Command in Guindulungan town purportedly to meet members of the group’s Central Committee.
“But while they are walking, Usman sensed what the real plan was and he tried to fight his way out of that situation. A firefight started where Usman was killed,” Jaafar said.
Jaafar revealed that the remaining men of Usman scampered for safety, taking with them the body of Usman and of the other fatalities.
“We were not able to get Usman’s body because his men took it with them. From what we have heard, he was immediately buried following Muslim tradition. Unfortunately, we do not know where he was buried,” Jaafar said.
The military earlier claimed that Usman was killed by one of his bodyguards who were recruited as an asset by a government operative sanctioned by a joint intelligence body directly tasked by President Benigno Aquino III to track down and neutralize Usman.
This asset reportedly recruited two other men from Usman’s circle to participate in a special operation to take down one of the top terror suspects in the country.
At around 10 a.m. on Sunday, the first shots were fired and the assets exchanged gunfire with Usman and around four loyal followers in Sitio Talanaken, Barangay (village) Muti in Guindulungan town, the military said.
Usman died in the firefight after sustaining gunshot wounds along with four others including the intelligence asset who led the special operations.
A military source said that after hearing the burst of gunfire, members of the MILF’s 118th Base Command responded and swooped down on the site of the firefight.
The remaining men alive reportedly disengaged and scampered in different directions, leaving behind five bodies including Usman’s.
Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the military’s 6th Infantry Division, said several versions of the firefight were still being verified, as of Tuesday, but Usman’s death has been verified. She said the operation to clamp down on terror activities succeeded because the government, MILF and the communities refused to give a space for the bomber and his men to slip through.
Jaafar said reports that a military asset was within Usman’s group could be true, and that an execution of two different and separate plans of the MILF and the government to take down Usman happened.
Jaafar said the initiative of the 118th Base Command to bring Usman to the Central Committee implemented the plan of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), which was formed as a mechanism so that both parties could work in tandem to pursue and apprehend criminal elements in the area.
“What is clear and what is important is that we are certain that Usman is dead. If the military claims that they killed Usman, then we actually do not have any problems about it,” Jaafar said.
The military also agreed that no one was actually grabbing any credit for the death of Usman and that his death was the culmination of efforts of the government, MILF and the communities to stop terror activities in the country.
“Everyone did their part to deny Usman and his man the opportunity to move and strike,” Petinglay said. SFM/AC
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