A Malaysian wanted by the US government for terrorist activities in Southeast Asia is hiding in territory held by breakaway Moro rebels in Maguindanao, southern Philippine province, a senior Bangsamoro leader said on Thursday.
Another source said a member of the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian affiliate of the global terrorist network al-Qaeda, is also hiding in this province.
Von Al Haq, a spokesperson for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), told the Inquirer on the phone that Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, is being coddled by the breakaway group led by Ameril Umra Kato.
Kato, formerly commander of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, broke away from the MILF in 2008 over serious disagreements with fellow rebel leaders on peace negotiations with the government.
He has since founded the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) whose armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), was involved in recent attacks on government security forces in Maguindanao, including a roadside bomb attack in Datu Piang town that wounded seven soldiers on Wednesday.
Al Haq said Marwan might have played a role in the August 5 bombing in Cotabato City that killed eight people and wounded nearly 30 others.
Earlier, National Security Adviser caesar Garcia said on national television that the Cotabato City blast had similarities to previous attacks perpetrated by Marwan.
“That’s what we got on the ground. He’s hiding among BIFF members. We also got feedback from residents (of areas) near BIFF camps,” Al Haq said.
Marwan has been monitored in the country since 2003. He has also been reported hiding with Abu Sayyaf bandits.
Last year, a military report said Marwan had moved to Central Mindanao, an area of operation for the MILF.
A military source, who asked not to be named because he had no authority to talk to journalists, said an Indonesian national was among those killed in a recent military operation against the BIFF in Datu Piang.
In a separate talk with the Inquirer, Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesperson for the military’s 6th Infantry Division, said there was an intelligence report that a Jemaah Islamiyah member had been sighted among Moro rebels in Datu Piang.
But Abu Misry Mama, a spokesperson for the BIFF, denied his group had ties with Marwan or any Jemaah Islamiyah member.
The MILF said it had offered to help the authorities investigate the August 5 blast in Cotabato City.
“We are offering our services to work alongside the police and the military in the pursuit operation against the bombing suspects,” Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF political affairs chief, said.
Police and military authorities in Cotabato City have prohibited motorists from parking and leaving their vehicles along Sinsuat Avenue and other major roads to prevent a repeat of the August 5 car-bomb attack.
The authorities have also prohibited motorcyclists from using full-head crash helmets. A full-head crash helmet has a visor that covers the rider’s face.
Senior Supt. Rolen Balquin, city police director, said the measures had been decided following Monday’s attack whose perpetrators remain unidentified despite talk by authorities that they already had suspects.
President Benigno Aquino III indicated during a visit to Davao City on Thursday that the bombings in Mindanao were the handiwork of terrorists.
Balquin said the 5-kilometre stretch of Sinsuat Avenue, the city’s main road, had been declared a “no parking area” for all four-wheel vehicles.
“This is to protect commuters and avoid similar car-bomb attacks in the future,” he said.
He said traffic officers would tow away vehicles left unattended and parked along Sinsuat Avenue, and the owners would be called in for questioning.
The prohibition against the use of full-head crash helmets will be strictly enforced, especially at night, Balquin said.
He said the measure stemmed from the police frustration at not being able to solve killings in the city carried out by gunmen riding motorcycles and wearing full-head crash helmets.
Terrorists can’t win
Businessmen in Mindanao said the bombings would not stop them from promoting the island to investors.
“We cannot be deterred. We just have to move forward. Being deterred means they—those who want to create trouble—have won,” Ricardo Juliano, vice president for Mindanao of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), said in a speech at the Mindanao Business Conference held in Davao City on Thursday.
Juliano said not all the bombings had been traced to terror groups reportedly operating in some parts of the island. Some have been traced to people who had specific targets, he said.
“It’s plain and simple criminality,” he said.
Juliano said businessmen had agreed to tackle other pressing concerns, particularly preparatory measures for the integration of Southeast Asian economies by 2015.
Perfecto Marquez, PCCI regional governor for Central Mindanao, said the public should not be overly bothered by the recent spate of bombings.
“We will not let the terrorists or those people behind the atrocities succeed, because if we get scared they will achieve their objective,” Marquez said. “We will not be cowed by these people.”
Cagayan de Oro City is getting back on its feet after a blast at a restaurant killed eight people and wounded 46 others on July 26.
Mayor Oscar Moreno said the city would proceed to celebrate a monthlong fiesta in honour of St. Augustine this August despite security concerns.
Insp. Lemuel Gonda, operations chief of the city police, said the authorities had finalised security and response plans.
With reports from Edwin Fernandez, Charlie Senase, Allan Nawal, Bobby Lagsa and Orlando Dinoy, Inquirer Mindanao