'Most wanted terrorist' believed killed in gunbattle

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian authorities are trying to confirm reports that Zulkifli, also known as Marwan, 48, was cornered and killed in a day-long gun battle between Philippines security forces and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters in southern Philippines on Sunday.

The Malaysian terror suspect who has a US$5mil (S$6.7 million) bounty on his head, is one of the most wanted JI leaders operating in South-East Asia.

He was believed to have been involved in several bombing and terror attacks in Mindanao involving the JI-assisted Abu Sayyaf group.

In November, Marwan, who was a bomb specialist leading Jemaah Islamiyah - linked to al-Qaeda, and several key Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) leaders - pledged allegiance to the Islamic State caliphate.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said he has contacted his counterparts in the Philippines to verify the report on Marwan's death.

"We are waiting for confirmation. It is still too early to determine anything at the moment," he said yesterday.

Sources revealed that news of Marwan's death has set intelligence agencies abuzz.

If true, his death would deal a blow to the terror network in the region.

Media reports from the Philippines stated that Marwan and a Filipino terrorist Basit Usman might have been have been killed together with more than 30 police commandos in a clash between the government forces and MILF troops.

This is the first violence since last year's Malaysia-brokered peace agreement.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief negotiator of the peace talks, confirmed the clash near Cotabato on Sunday but neither the MILF nor the military would say who was killed.

The Philippines Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said yesterday the military has received reports that Marwan and Usman were killed in the battle in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao.

"We have no confirmation but that was the report we got last night (Sunday)," Gazmin was quoted by the Philippines media.

Marwan was also suspected of planning an attack in Manila during the visit by the Pope last week.

This is not the first time that reports have emerged of Marwan's death.

In February 2012, Philippines military confirmed Marwan was killed in a bombing on an Abu Sayyaf hideout in Jolo.

But a month later, Malaysian intelligence discovered that he had escaped to Mindanao where he has since been operating with an MILF splinter group, BIFF.