MANILA (Xinhua) – The alleged involvement of the United States in one of the bloodiest anti-terror operations in the Philippines, which is investigated by the Philippine Senate, could seriously affect security cooperation agreements between Washington and Manila.
According to Senator Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, the committee may invite officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the US embassy to shed light on the role that the US authorities played in what is called the Mamasapano incident.
A daring early dawn raid on January 25 by the elite special action force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police in a terrorist hideout in the town of Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, resulted in the killing of 44 SAF commandos by guerrillas of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The US involvement in Operation Exodus, the code-name for the Mamasapano raid, was described in detail by sacked SAF commander Director Getulio Napenas during a close-door hearing at the Senate.
Napenas reportedly told the senators that a US surveillance plane tracked Malaysian bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and Basit Usman, his Filipino accomplice, to their hideout in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Marwan was killed but Usman was able to escape and is still on the lam. Napenas has also told the Senate that his troops handed over the severed index finger of Marwan to agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for DNA testing. The presence of FBI agents in Mindanao has also been questioned.
The Philippine Constitution prohibits foreign troops from engaging in combat operations within the country.
Both the DFA and the US Embassy have denied the participation of any US soldier in the Mamasapano encounter. In a statement, US embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer said the US only responded to the request of Philippine authorities for assistance in the evacuation of dead and wounded after the firefight in Maguindanao.
Marwan was a member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a transnational terrorist organisation with cells in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. JI, which has direct links to al-Qaeda, was responsible for the Bali bombing in 2002 that killed more than 200 Australian tourists.a