Philippines on the hunt for two top S-E Asia jihadists

Philippines on the hunt for two top S-E Asia jihadists
Singaporean Abdullah Ali (left) and Zulkifli Hir are believed to be training bomb makers for insurgents in Mindanao.

Philippine security forces say they have expanded their manhunt for one of the world's most wanted terrorists to include his Singaporean counterpart, also a top jihadist believed to have been killed in an airstrike in 2012.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala told The Straits Times in a text message yesterday that police and military operations to capture Zulkifli Hir, a master bomb maker of South-east Asia terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, have been expanded to include Singaporean Abdullah Ali alias Muawiyah.

"Operations are ongoing, and we will get them. We will catch them sooner or later," said Lt-Col Zagala, the military's spokesman. Zulkifli, who also uses the name Manwar, and Muawiyah have been described by terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna as the "two most important international terrorists currently operating in South-east Asia".

Zulkifli, a US-trained engineer, has been accused of supplying bombs to radical groups and training jihadists bound for Syria and Iraq. He is believed to be among those responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings. There is a US$5 million (S$6.2 million) bounty on his head.

Muawiyah, meanwhile, was said to have participated in the 2009 abduction of three members of the International Red Cross in the Philippines.

Philippine military officials said previously that both Zulkifli and Muawiyah were killed in an airstrike in Jolo province in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on Feb 2, 2012.

No bodies were ever recovered, however, and counter-terrorism officials in Malaysia have maintained that Zulkifli at least is still alive.

On Wednesday, the Philippine military finally acknowledged that both Zulkifli and Muawiyah were still alive. This is after it was reported that Abu Sayyaf commander Khair Mundos, arrested by police near Manila's international airport on June 11, said he had seen the two last year at a Maguindanao province encampment of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, a hardline separatist group.

"We never said he was dead. There was a report that he was killed in the airstrike, but it was never validated and, therefore, we consider him alive," said Lt-Col Zagala, referring to Manwar.

Zulkifli and Muawiyah are said to be training bombmakers for Muslim insurgents in Mindanao, and sheltering jihadists from Malaysia seeking to join the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

This article was first published on August 8, 2014.
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