MANILA (AFP) – The FBI has said that DNA analysis indicates one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, Bali bomber Zulkifli bin Hir, was likely killed in a Philippine police raid last month that also claimed the lives of 44 commandos.
The hunt for Zulkifli ended at his hideout on remote farmland in the southern island of Mindanao just before dawn on January 25.
Philippines media on Thursday ran a photo purportedly showing his dead body, sprawled in a hut and in a blood-soaked shirt.
A top militant in the Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), he is a key suspect in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings which killed 202 people, as well as two deadly Philippine blasts.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tested a sample from the body identified by Philippine police as Zulkifli, David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said in a statement sent to AFP.
“As we have reported to our Philippine law enforcement partners, preliminary results indicate that the DNA profiles obtained from the biological sample indicate a possible relationship with a known relative of Zulkifli,” he said.
“Although the results of the DNA examinations do not provide absolute identification, the results do support that the biological sample provided by Philippine authorities came from Marwan,” he said, using the militant’s alias.
The death would be a boost for President Benigno Aquino, who has been heavily criticised over the botched Mindanao raid which descended into chaos when police were ambushed by rebel forces.
The US State Department had put up a $5 million reward for Zulkifli, a multilingual, American-trained engineer who is believed to have hidden amongst Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines since 2003. The military and police say he had instructed local militants on the manufacture and use of improvised explosive devices.
Local security experts also say he is thought to have married the Filipina widow of Khadaffy Janjalani – the slain former leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group which is blamed for the country’s deadliest terror attacks – cementing his ties to local extremists.
Asked about the US report, Philippine police chief Leonardo Espina said the government will make a statement on the issue shortly.
In a televised national address after the chaotic Mindanao operation, Aquino said Zulkifli and Filipino JI fugitive Abdul Basit Usman had been selling their bomb-making expertise to other extremists.
“They have injured and killed many people, and they continue to threaten the safety of our citizens as long as they roam free,” Aquino said, as he sought to calm growing outrage over the security forces’ single largest battlefield loss in recent memory.
Espina said his men, who were part of a nearly 400-strong police commando force, were ambushed by rebels including members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a peace agreement with Manila last year.
The elite police unit has been attempting to capture or kill Zulkifli since December 2010, previously staging seven unsuccessful attempts, their former commander Getulio Napenas told reporters on Wednesday.
“We accomplished our mission. It’s possible that hundreds, even thousands more would have been killed had the master bomb trainer been allowed to roam our streets,” Napenas added.