By Keith Bacongco
Maguindanao– Three years after the death of Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifi bin Hir (Marwan), two terrorists who worked closely with him are still holed up in the peripheries of Liguasan Marsh in Central Mindanao and being protected by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Three years ago today, the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) launched “Oplan Exodus” and killed Marwan in a hut in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao, an MILF territory.
Marwan had a $5-million bounty from the US govt while the Philippine govt offered a P7-million bounty. The operation led to the massacre of 44 SAF troopers and 18 Moro rebels, a tragedy that led to the scrapping of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress following a public outrage.
A seasoned intelligence officer disclosed to Manila Bulletin that Singaporean Abdullah Alih, known as Muawiyah and Malaysian Amin Baco or Yohan the two understudies of Marwan are being protected by BIFF commander Esmael Abdulmalik, alias Abu Torayfe.
“Muawiyah is still in the area of Datu Salibo and Mamasapano towns in Maguindanao and being protected by Torayfe,” the intel officer assured requesting anonymity.
Baco, the officer said shared a hut with Marwan. “During the raid, Baco was able to escape through the window at the back of the hut and fled along with (Basit) Usman.” Muawiyah, who arrived in Mindanao in the early ’90s has a $500,000 bounty.
But the intel officer said he has not monitored the movement of Baco after fighting with the Maute group during the Marawi siege. The intel officer said it was Baco who took the surveillance video around the city prior to the siege. Baco arrived in Mindanao in 2014 and joined the IS-Ranao group of the Maute brothers.
Also included in the manhunt is Salahuddin Hassan, who carries a P1.3-million bounty, he added.
“Hassan used to be part the MILF’s elite force and among the close-in guards of the late MILF chair Hashim Salamat. But when Salamat died, Hassan and some of his colleagues left the MILF and formed the Al-Khobar Group,” the officer claimed.
The Al-Khobar Group is reportedly behind the bombing and extortion activities on bus firms and business establishments in Central Mindanao.
But the MILF denied allegations that Al-Khobar is composed of former MILF fighters.
Sixth Infantry Division spokesperson Lt. Colonel Gerry Besana confirmed that Hassan and Muawiyah are operating along with the BIFF in the “SPMS box,” referring to the towns of Shariff Aguak-Pagatin-Mamasapano-Shariff Saydona.
“If there’s military operation in the area, they will retreat to the neighboring town of Aleosan (North Cotabato) and sometimes all the way to Carmen,” Besana added.
The military received reports that Muawiyah was among those injured during the airstrike last November.
Aside from Baco and Muawiyah, dozens of Indonesian and Malaysian terrorists are hiding in Liguasan helping the BIFF make explosive devices and train jihadists, Besana said.
During the oral argument at the Supreme Court last week on the extended martial law in Mindanao, the AFP claimed to have monitored 48 foreign terrorists Mindanao.
“Baco is more of a computer expert. He used to be an assistant of Marwan and he had the list of their contacts abroad because Marwan doesn’t know how to use a computer very well,” the officer disclosed.
PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa claimed Baco is believed to be the next emir of the IS in Southeast Asia.
“Let’s wait for the ISIS itself to announce the replacement of Hapilon, they will post that in YouTube,” the intel officer said.
Latest report posted online quoted MNLF leader Yusop Jikiri as saying that Baco is being protected by his Filipino father-in-law, Abu Sayyaf kidnap leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan in the mountains of Patikul, Sulu.
The intel officer believes those who survived the Marawi battle would still regroup the reason for the close monitoring of “sleeper cells” in different parts of Mindanao which could be possible launch pads for kidnappings and terroristic attacks.
“The death of Hapilon doesn’t matter to the IS-inspired groups because he was just a figurehead. Another one may soon be anointed by the ISIS,” noted the intel officer who is a veteran in dealing with the insurgency in Mindanao.