More than a month after Philippine government troops claimed they had killed one of FBI's most wanted terrorists – Malaysia’s Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan – the U.S. agency says it is still conducting biological tests to confirm his death.
“Further tests have yet to be finalized in order to confirm a full DNA match for Marwan,” Laura Eimiller, spokesperson for the FBI’s field office in Los Angeles, told BenarNews last week by phone from southern California.
“The results will be provided to investigators as well as our law enforcement partners in the Philippines,” she added.
At press time the bureau had yet to remove Marwan’s profile from its list of “Most Wanted Terrorists”.
Earlier reports proved untrue
The FBI may not be taking any chances as this is not the first time Manila has reported that its forces had killed Marwan, who has a U.S. $5 million American government bounty on his head.
Three years ago, the Philippine government claimed it had killed Marwan in an airstrike on the southern Jolo island.
He survived the aerial assault but a local commander with the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group, which operates on Jolo and is also linked to Jemaah Islamiyah, expelled Marwan out of fear that he could attract more raids by government forces, the Associated Press reported.
Born in Muar, a coastal town overlooking the Strait of Malacca in Malaysia’s Johor state, Marwan trained as an engineer in the United States. But he went on to become one of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorists and a main suspect in the 2002 Bali bombings.
Marwan, who is 48 or 49, according to his FBI profile, went on the run after those attacks, which killed 202 people. The profile also notes he is thought to be the head of the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM) terrorist organization as well as a member of the central command of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an Indonesia-based terrorist group.
Manila now claims that its police commandos killed the suspected bomb-maker in the Bali plot during a raid in the southern Philippines on Jan. 25.
After commandos presumably killed Marwan, they cut off one of his thumbs as a DNA sample, and they photographed the bloody corpse. The Philippines sent the sample to the FBI for laboratory testing.
On Feb. 4, the bureau’s field office in Los Angeles issued an initial statement saying that a DNA analysis suggested that the sample belonged to Marwan, but more testing needed to be done to confirm a match, AP reported.
“Although the results of the DNA examinations do not provide absolute identification, the results do support that the biological sample provided by Philippine authorities came from Marwan,” David Bowdich, the field office’s assistant director in charge, said in the statement.
A heavy price
But while the Philippines is claiming success in taking out Marwan, Filipinos are mourning the loss of 44 members of their country’s Special Action Force (SAF), who went into Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, to get Marwan. The commandos were killed after getting trapped in a firefight with different Moro rebel factions while retreating from the marshy area around Mamasapano, according to newswire reports and Filipino media.
The firefight, which also left 18 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and five civilians dead, died down when the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) intervened, according to the Philippine Star.
The SAF commandoes had gone into the hostile zone to hunt down both Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman, a suspected Filipino terrorist wanted in connection with at least nine bombings carried out in the southern Philippines. Abdul, who was in the area at the time of the raid, evaded capture.
“The operation against Marwan was successful. In exchange for this triumph, we paid a heavy price,” Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III told the nation in a televised address on Feb. 6.
“I am the father of this country and 44 of my children were killed. They can no longer be brought back. This tragedy happened during my term, and I will carry this to the end of my days,” Aquino went on to say, according to a transcript of his speech.
“Terrorists such as Marwan and Usman murder innocent people without hesitation or remorse, which is why operations to neutralize them are inherently dangerous. Marwan was an international terrorist, who had been long sought not only by us, but also by other countries. We did not expect them to follow like obedient sheep when presented with an arrest warrant.”