The Philippines military has killed three of the region’s most wanted terrorists, including Malaysian Zulkifli Khir, also known as Marwan, who was among the last leaders of the regional Jemaah Islamiyah terror network. Authorities said his death should help in winning the release of hostages, in particular Australian kidnap victim Warren Rodwell.
Marwan was killed in a U.S.-backed airstrike in a dawn raid on a militant base that resulted in the deaths of at least 15 people. Marwan carried a $5 million bounty on his head, and was wanted for training militants in bomb making and carrying out deadly attacks in the south.
His death followed a near miss in Malaysia, as previously documented by The Diplomat, in which Marwan, Amin Bacho and Jeknal Adil – all members of the militant group Darul Islam Sabah – escaped a dragnet operation in November that netted 13 suspected militants in Tawau on the east coast of north Borneo.
An unmanned U.S. drone was believed involved in the latest attack, which included two Philippines Air Force planes that bombed the village of Lanao Dakula in Parang.
Zulkifli was a former head of Kumpulan Militant Malaysia (KMM). He fled to Indonesia in mid-2000 amid a Malaysian crackdown and joined the Abu Sayyaf group, training their members in bomb-making. He has also has been described as one of the last remaining key terror suspects in Southeast Asia.
Also killed in the Philippine operation were the leader of Abu Sayyaf militants, Umbra Jumdail, known as Dr Abu, and JI’s Singaporean leader, Abdullah Ali, who went by the name of Muawiyah.
Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, military spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, said Marwan was responsible for nearly all the Improvised Explosive Devices that have been used in the Southern Philippines over recent years.
“Fifteen terrorists killed, including Marwan and Muawiyah. These two are top JI leaders in Southeast Asia,” he told Australian media, adding they were being protected by the Abu Sayyaf.
Abu Sayyaf was blamed for the kidnapping of Rodwell, 53, who lived in Mindanao, and authorities believe he’s being held in the province of Sulu. Cabangbang added the killings will help in negotiations because the Abu Sayyaf will think twice about keeping their hostages for an extended period.
This was “because we are tracking them, and it’s just a matter of time until we catch them.”
He added that Marwan and Dr Abu had worked together in orchestrating another 20 kidnappings, and more recently were attempting to recruit for JI’s depleted ranks.
Rodwell has been videoed making an emotional appeal for the authorities and his family to raise the money for his release saying in part: “…The only solution to ensure my safety is to go with whatever they need. If I’m given my last wish, my last wish is to please help me out of here alive.”
Kidnappers are demanding a $2 million ransom from Rodwell’s Filipino wife, but she can’t afford to pay and the Philippines and Australian governments have flatly rejected the demand.
The Abu Sayyaf are also believed to be holding two Malaysians, an Indian and a Japanese treasure hunter in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu provinces.
The antics of JI and Abu Sayyaf have been well-documented in ASEAN Beat in recent years, and there’s little doubt that JI is all but a spent force from a broad perspective. However, their ability to bully and create havoc in the lives of ordinary citizens going about their daily lives, particularly in the southern Philippines, remains a tragic indictment of the conflict that has dogged the region for four decades.