MANILA: (The Star) When Malaysian terrorist Marwan was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police commandos early Sunday, the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (SAF) cut off a finger on his right hand to make sure they got the DNA of the most wanted terrorist in Southeast Asia.
The shootout with Marwan, whose real name was Zulkifli Hir, occurred in Pidsandawan village in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province.
Supt Raymond Train, the highest ranking officer on the SAF raiding team, wanted his men to bring Marwan’s body as the group withdrew after killing the terrorist in a brief exchange of fire.
But the gunfire roused Marwan’s security and soon the commandos came under fire.
Carrying Marwan’s body was now out of the question. The commandos decided to cut off a finger from the terrorist’s hand.
Two versions of the DNA extraction report were initially received, the first saying the commandos had beheaded Marwan, and the second, cut off his finger.
But police director Getulio Napeñas, the SAF commander who was sacked because of the number of lives lost during the operation, and an official from the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) confirmed that the commandos cut off one of the fingers of Marwan.
“Finger, a finger from the right hand,” said the PAOCC officer, who is from the PNP.
Train took the finger to Camp Awang in Maguindanao for DNA tests, the report said.
Before withdrawing, a commando took pictures of the dead Marwan, sources said. The body was left in the hut.
President Benigno Aquino III, in a nationally televised address to the nation on Wednesday, reported the death of the bomb expert from the Indonesia-based terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.
Earlier, Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), confirmed in a radio interview in Cotabato City that Marwan, who had a U$6mil bounty on his head, was killed in the police operation in Mamasapano.
It has been six days since that deadly “Oplan Wolverine” carried out by the SAF but the government has not produced Marwan’s body.
A classified report submitted to the PAOCC headed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said Marwan’s body was immediately buried not in Pidsandawan but in a nearby village controlled by one Ali Tambako of the Justice for Islamic Movement.
According to the report, Marwan’s wife, Joromee Dongon, informed her relatives of her husband’s death hours after hearing about it from the terrorist’s men.
Dongon used to be the wife of Khadaffy Janjalani, leader of the militant group Abu Sayyaf who was killed by government security forces in Sulu province on Sept. 4, 2006.
Train’s 37-member team shot its way out of Pidsandawan, losing eight men. A second, bigger SAF team that served as a blocking force was attacked by guerrillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the sources said.
Guerrillas from the MILF, which has its 105th Base Command in Mamasapano, were drawn into the fighting, which went on for 11 hours until the joint government-MILF ceasefire committee stepped in to stop it.
Forty-four SAF commandos were killed and 16 others, including three civilians, wounded in the fighting. The government and the MILF are separately investigating the incident to determine what really happened.
Train’s team walked for hours early on Sunday to get to Marwan’s hideout. But it took them less than 15 minutes to kill him, sources said.
Napeñas confirmed the information in an earlier interview, saying the assault force was able to enter Marwan’s hut, but the terrorist was awakened and shot it out with the commandos, getting killed in the exchange of fire.
Napeñas said Marwan was alone in the hut, but the report submitted to the PAOCC said the terrorist had two companions and they were wounded in the gunfight. They were identified as Ben Said, a Tausug, and one Saad, believed to be a Malaysian.
The report said the Jan 25 operation was the culmination of the intelligence build-up on Marwan that started in October 2013. The operation was described as a “Complete Intelligence Package.”
Train, who led the assault team, served as the intelligence officer of the operation. He is a member of the Philippine National Police Academy Class 2005.
“The participation of a superintendent or colonel in the actual assault proves that what we did was a command commitment,” Napeñas said.
“Think of it, a colonel as part of the assault team? But that was our stand. We were sure of our intelligence information, that’s why we acted on it at once,” he said.
Napeñas described the Mamasapano operation as similar to “Oplan Neptune Spear,” the covert US Navy Seals operation that got al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in March 2011.
The Abbottabad operation was CIA-led and while there was no official statement from Napeñas or from any other officer or office involved in the operation to get Marwan, the mission was based on the declaration of the CIA and the US Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Asset Control, declaring Marwan one of the most wanted terrorists in Southeast Asia with US$5mil offered for his capture. The reward was later raised to US$6mil.
Napeñas said the operation was the SAF’s inherent duty as law enforcer and was the execution of a continuing operation, not motivated by the reward.
“No government troops, police or military, will get that reward. That reward is for civilians who would provide intelligence information that would lead to the capture or killing of (Marwan). What we did is part of our inherent job as law enforcers. We don’t stand to benefit from that reward,” he said.
Napeñas said the operation was launched without informing his superiors, the military and the MILF to ensure the fall of Marwan. He informed deputy director-general Leonardo Espina about it just as the commandos were attacking Marwan’s hideout.
The mission was successful, as would be shown by the results of the DNA tests, he said.
But Napeñas lost 44 of his men. In an interview with the Inquirer late on Tuesday, he said he was taking full responsibility for what happened. – Philippine Daily Inquirer / Asia News Network