Malacanang, MILF, AFP confirm Usman killed

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COTABATO CITY (MindaNews /04 May) – Malacanang and officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have confirmed the killing Sunday of Abdulbasit Usman, one of the country’s most wanted terrorists.

GMA News TV on Sunday night quoted Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office as saying Usman “was killed in a firefight in Guindulungan, Maguindanao at around noon today”.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang also confirmed Usman was killed.

In an interview over DXMY in Cotabato City, MILF vice chair for political affairs Ghazaali Jaafar confirmed that Usman was killed Sunday noon by elements of the MILF.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews in a text message Monday morning that Usman “is dead due to encounter with MILF forces who want to take hold of him.”

“There was a standing order to get him but he was very elusive,” Iqbal said. It was a “deliberate operation to get him,” he added.

Usman’s killing came a day before Congress was scheduled to resume sessions. Among the bills the two houses of Congress will deliberate on is the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which will pave the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro government to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), as agreed upon by the government and MILF in its Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed on March 27, 2014.

Malacanang, senators and representatives, had repeatedly demanded of the MILF to surrender Usman who managed to escape when the 84th Special Action Company of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP-SAF) swooped down on the village where he and Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan were hiding allegedly with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Forces (BIFF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, early morning of January 25.

In his address to the nation on February 6, his second after the January 25 Mamasapano tragedy that left 66 persons dead – 44 from the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police (PNP-SAF), 17 from the MILF and five civilians – President Aquino said the MILF should surrender or help capture Usman or to “not interfere with our pursuit of Usman.”

“From the onset, I have considered you brothers on the path to peace. Until now, I am confident that you will help us in seeking justice; that those who have done wrong should be held to account, especially if it is confirmed that there were SAF troopers who were executed despite being wounded and defenseless. Your efforts to limit the movement of the BIFF are a good first step,” he said in Filipino.

On Usman, the President said, again addressing the MILF: “Let me point out the following: If he remains within your territory, or is protected by one of your members, we expect you to surrender him to the authorities. If not, we expect you to do everything you can to help capture him. And if even this is not possible, do not interfere with our pursuit of Usman.”

“May this serve as a warning and a reminder: We will get Usman, whatever you decide, regardless of who provides a safe haven for him, regardless of where he may be hiding. Let no one doubt: We are partners in pursuing peace and justice. To those who have lost their way, who would still stand in our way, remember this:  You are fighting the State, and we will run you over,” Aquino said.

Usman was reported killed in a chance encounter with troops of the MILF’s 118th Base Command under a Commander Barok in Barangay Muti, Guindulungan, Maguindanao.

Maguindanao police director Sr. Supt. Nickson Muksan confirmed the report based on the validation with Muti barangay captain Gayak Midtimbang, Guindulungan Mayor Midpantao Midtimbang and Toks Upam of the MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.

The United States’ National Counterterrorism Center in its website described Usman as “a Filipino citizen, a bomb-making expert with links to the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiyah.

A million dollar (44.5 million pesos) reward has been allocated for information leading to his arrest. (Ferdinand B. Cabrera with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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