‘MILF role in Usman death to favor Bangsamoro’

Posted on May 05, 2015

A MORO rebel group’s role in helping neutralize Abdul Basit Usman is a “concrete” reason for the public and lawmakers to support the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Malacañang said yesterday.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters attend a general assembly meeting in a sprawling rebel camp in Lanao del Sur province. -- AFP
“We understand that our beloved lawmakers and citizens have been searching for a concrete manifestation that will prove the strong working relationship and cooperation of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in promoting the peace process,” Communications Secretary Herminio B. Coloma told reporters in Filipino during a press briefing in Malacañang on Monday. “During this time, this is what the different stakeholders are looking for.”

Mr. Coloma was referring to reports that Usman, a Filipino on the United States’ list of most wanted terrorists, was killed in the fire fight while being escorted by members of the MILF, its vice-chairman Ghazali Jaafar said in a report by the Agence-France Presse.

“We can confirm that Usman is dead and his body was buried in accordance with Muslim tradition,” Jaafar told AFP, but he refused to say who killed him.

The MILF is seeking to finalize an accord, signed last year, with the government to end four decades of fighting in which about 120,000 people have died.

Security forces had been hunting Usman since he escaped from a January police raid that killed Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, an alleged bomb maker who was the subject of a $5-million US government bounty.

Usman, accused of repeated bomb attacks in the southern Philippines, was the subject of a $1-million US bounty.

The January raid, conducted in MILF territory, also led to the death of 44 police commandos as rebels fought back, setting back efforts to finalize the peace deal.

The MILF has since then been under intense political pressure to show it is a reliable peace partner.

Jaafar said Usman was killed as MILF rebels were escorting him to the group’s leaders to surrender, adding that he probably did not know he was being taken back to the MILF leaders.

“There was a fire fight along the way. Usman could have sensed that he was being double-crossed,” Jaafar said.

However, he refused to give any more details as to who killed Usman, saying only that the circumstances of the fire fight were under investigation.

Mr. Coloma also said that the MILF’s role in neutralizing Usman will add further to the confidence-building measures between them and the Philippine government.

“This will help because there is something we can look back on wherein there were opportunities in the past where the MILF showed they can be a trusted partner of the government in the peace process,” he said.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Gregorio Pio P. Catapang, Jr. said Usman had been killed, but that it remained unclear as to who killed him.

“Basit Usman is dead, as to the circumstances of what happened during that encounter, it’s up to (the investigation),” Mr. Catapang told reporters.

The military said five of Usman’s followers had also died in the battle, and that some of his own men may have double-crossed him.

The alleged shoot-out occurred “Sitio Takeneken, Barangay Muti, Guindulungan, Maguindanao.” This was said to be “near the vicinity of Camp Afghan,” a temporary relocation site for MILF members who voluntarily vacated their as the military was conducting operations against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in February.

MILF members at the camp reportedly “discovered the dead bodies” and recovered an M60 general purpose machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade and a caliber 5.56 mm bushmaster rifle, according to the AFP.

Military sources on the ground “believe that there was infighting among Usman’s followers fueled by the tussle for the huge monetary reward that was put on his head.”

Asked if they were able to obtain DNA samples, Mr. Catapang said “that will be confirmed by Major General Edmund R. Pangilinan.” Mr. Pangilinan is the commander of the 6th Infantry division. Mr. Catapang said that Mr. Pangilinan has been instructed to conduct an investigation regarding Usman’s death.

Security forces accuse Usman of carrying out at least nine bombing incidents in the south, including an attack in the port city of General Santos in 2002 that killed 15 people and wounded 60 others.

The US State Department’s Web site describes him as “a bomb-making expert with links to the Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf Group terrorist organizations” leading him to be considered a threat to American and Filipino citizens and interests.

As part of the peace pact, the MILF agreed to give up its independence ambitions in exchange for an autonomous homeland.

The government and the MILF are racing to finalize the accord by the middle of next year. -- AFP with Alden M. Monzon and Elizabeth E. Escaño