MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) secretly orchestrated a botched raid targeting an alleged Islamic terrorist that left 44 Filipino policemen dead two years ago.
Police commandos killed Zulkifli Abdhir, who was on the US government’s list of “Most Wanted Terrorists”, in the raid in remote farmland in the southern Philippines, where various Muslim separatist rebel groups and more hardline militants are based.
However Muslim gunmen ambushed the attacking police commandos and killed 44 of them in a day-long battle, with a Philippine Senate investigation blaming poor planning and coordination for the deaths.
The raid was carried out during the term of Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino 3rd. It derailed Aquino’s efforts to forge a peace pact with the nation’s main Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), to end a decades-long rebellion.
“It was an American adventure with the cooperation of some, and apparently with your blessing,” Duterte said, referring to Aquino.
“Why was it kept under wraps? It was actually an operation of the CIA.”
Duterte made the allegations in a speech to widows and other relatives of the 44 policemen killed in the raid, after receiving them at the Malacañang presidential palace.
Duterte has during his seven months in office sought to loosen the Philippines’ longtime alliance with the United States while forging closer ties with China and Russia.
The controversial politician has branded former US president Barack Obama a “son of a whore”, and made unsubstantiated accusations that the CIA is plotting to assassinate him.
Aquino had justified the police raid, saying that Zulkifli had been training militants in the southern Philippines in how to make bombs.
The United States had said Zulkifli was a top militant in the Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah.
A Philippine Senate report into the raid concluded the United States played a “substantial” role by providing training, equipment and intelligence to the Filipino forces.
However it did not refer to the CIA.
Responding to the Senate report in 2015, a US government official told AFP at the time: “This operation was planned and executed by Philippine authorities. We refer you to them for details of the operation.”
Spokesmen for the US embassy in Manila and Aquino did not immediately reply to requests for reaction to Duterte’s latest comments.
Duterte also alleged on Tuesday Aquino held back reinforcements and let the commandos die because the government did not want to risk a fresh war with the MILF, which had signed a peace agreement 10 months earlier.
“It is not enough to tell the people it was your fault. You (Aquino) must tell me what you did. You fed the soldiers to the lion’s den to be eaten by death,” Duterte said. AFP