ZAMBOANGA CITY: A notorious rebel leader wanted in the Philippines and the United States was wounded in a clash with government troops on Tuesday in Maguindanao.
Brigadier General Edmundo Pangilinan said Abdul Basit Usman, who has links with al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya, managed to escape a military dragnet, but two other suspected rebels were killed by soldiers who raided a Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) hideout in Libutan village in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town.
Slain were the grandfather and uncle of Usman’s wife, who was also captured along with her two children who were turned over to social workers.
Three other women—two Indonesians and one Filipina from Sulu —were also arrested and one of them is the wife of Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, the leader of the Kum–pulun Mujahidin Malaysia, who was reportedly killed in a United States-backed airstrike in February 2012 in Sulu but his body had not been found or recovered.
The names of the four women were not released by the military, but all of them are being interrogated separately by authorities in an undisclosed location in Maguindanao.
Pangilinan, who is the commander of the 6th Infantry Division, said there were no casualties on the military side. “Usman was wounded, but he managed to escape and troops are tracking him down. Two other rebels were also killed in the fighting,” he told The Manila Times by phone from the town where he set up a command center to monitor the operations against the terrorist leader.
The soldiers recovered a cache of weapons and improvised explosives, including a 155mm howitzer and mortar bombs and munitions. They also recovered a van and seven motorcycles before rebels could rig it with explosives and use to bomb military and civilian targets. A wallet with Usman’s picture was also recovered in the area.
“We have recovered so many weapons and explosives, and there is also a Barrett sniper rifle, blasting caps and cell phones that they use as detonators, and 155mm [howitzer]and mortar bombs. The recovery of these war materials has saved a lot of lives,” he said.
He said troops launched the raid after a long surveillance operations and intelligence provided by civilians about Usman, a bomb expert, and the BIFF.
“This clearly shows that Usman has a connection with the BIFF which was behind the series of attacks and bombings in Maguindanao and nearby provinces,” he said.
He said the soldiers fought off about two dozen rebels during the 45-minute encounter.|
Maguindanao is one of five provinces under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao where BIFF, the armed wing of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement founded by former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Ameril Umra Kato is actively operating.
Philippine authorities blamed Usman, a former MILF commander, for the spate of deadly bombings in Mindanao the past two decades.
The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which recently signed a peace deal with Manila, has previously ordered its forces to hunt down Usman after he was linked to terror attacks.
In 2010, Pakistan military reported that Usman was killed along with another foreigner and 10 al-Qaeda militants in a United States (US) drone strike in the restive South Waziristan region, but the reports turned out to be false with the Philippine military saying that the militant leader was in Mindanao.
The US put up a $1 million bounty for Usman’s capture under its Government Rewards Program after he was tagged by authorities as behind deadly bombings in the Philippines and has been considered by Washington as a threat to the country.