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Is Marwan dead or not? Reports vary

CONTRARY to the claim of Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, the police failed to “neutralize” Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir who is still alive and at large after the police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that resulted in the death of 44 police commandos.

“They did not get Marwan, he’s still alive,” according to Absalom Cerveza, spokesman of the Moro National Liberation Front whose members have been closely monitoring the “very fluid situation” in Mindanao.

Cerveza said former MNLF rebels who have contacts in both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and its renegade faction Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and they are reporting that Marwan was no longer in the area when the police arrived on Sunday.

“It’s anybody’s guess,” Cerveza said when asked if he had an idea where Marwan is now, “but my contacts reiterated that Marwan was not in the area when the assault occurred.”

Cerveza said the raid of the police’s Special Action Force was apparently based on information from an asset, who had proven to be accurate and reliable in previous operations, that Marwan would be in Mamasapano on the day of the attack.

“Days before the attack, Marwan could have been in the area,” Cerveza said, “but he must have moved out even before the fighting.”

Cerveza said the police asset was also killed in the fighting so it was very hard to determine whether the Mamasapano incident was really a “mis-encounter” as claimed by Roxas or was planned by the BIFF.

Cerveza said they had gathered that the police withdrew after they clashed with members of the BIFF, but they unintentionally withdrew to an area where there were MILF troops, which was what officials meant when they used the term “mmis-encounter.”

Even the MILF, which had repeatedly denied coddling Marwan or even knowing his whereabouts, declined to confirm government claims that the Malaysian terrorist was killed in the clash.

“We could not confirmed nor deny that Marwan died in that encounter and we have no information he was ever in our folds when the fighting transpired as others sectors claim,” said MILF peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal. “Our priority and focus is on the importance of the peace agreement.”

But in a press briefing Tuesday morning, Roxas insisted that there was a “high likelihood” Marwan, how is suspected of being behind the 2002 Bali bombings, was killed in the operation.

Roxas said nearly 400 highly-trained policemen took part in the operation in Mamasapano to arrest Marwan but were ambushed by Islamist fighters.

They managed to escape but strayed into territory controlled by a different militant group, sparking another firefight.

“There is a high likelihood according to the participants that Marwan was killed in the operations, but this needs confirmation,” Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas told a news conference.

While they failed to recover the body of the main target, “they were able to take pictures, and these pictures will undergo a process to determine whether it was Marwan or not.”

Zulkifli, among the United States’s most wanted militants, is a bombmaker for the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group which staged the 2002 bombings in Bali that claimed 202 lives, and other deadly attacks in southeast Asia.

A top Malaysian police official on counter-terrorism told the Malay Mail newspaper that Kuala Lumpur was still waiting for information from the Philippine authorities on Zulkifli’s fate.

Zulkifli, described by the US State Department as a 48-year-old Malaysian militant and a member of JI’s central command who had trained as an engineer in the United States, has long been sought by the authorities.

Declarations of his death, however, have proved premature in the past.

In March 2012 Malaysian counter-terror police denied a Philippine military claim that Zulkifli was killed in an air strike.

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