'Mission accomplished': PNP declares Marwan dead

MANILA, Philippines – “I declare that Marwan is dead. Mission Accomplished.”

More than two months after a controversial police operation to kill two wanted terrorists in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Officer-in-Charge Police Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina officially declared one of the targets as dead.

In a statement released on Sunday, April 5, Espina said the police force welcomes news from the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confirming “with certainty the identity of international terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan as the person who was successfully neutralized by the PNP-SAF in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, 2015.”

“These conclusive findings effectively dismissed any and all doubts about the death of one of Asia's most wanted and dangerous terrorists,” said Espina.

The FBI confirmed on April 2 that the man who was killed during the January 25 operation was Marwan, prompting the FBI to officially remove him from their list of most wanted terrorist.

“On their behalf, as OIC of the PNP, I declare that Marwan is dead. Mission Accomplished,” added Espina. (READ: Leonardo Espina: Leading a PNP in 'crisis')

While the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) troopers got Marwan, two other targets, among them Filipino bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman, was able to flee. The top secret police operation also claimed the lives of at least 67 people, based on the PNP’s count – 5 civilians, 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters, and 44 members of the SAF. [Editor’s note: The MILF claims 17 of its fighters were killed]

“Based on this new evidence provided by modern science, there is no doubt that the PNP-SAF indeed got their man, as they always do. This fact should add to the glory and honor of the 44 brave young men who offered the supreme sacrifice to get the job done,” added the 3-star police general.

The operation to neutralize Marwan and its unintended consequences is the biggest crisis to hit President Benigno Aquino III’s administration. Aquino numbers have dipped considerably following the January 25 operation, which saw top government, police and military officials out of the loop.

The President has also been under fire for his involvement in the operation, as well as that of his friend, resigned PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima, who at the time of the operation was preventively suspended over a graft case.

“Oplan Exodus” has also endangered a long-awaited peace deal between the Philippine government and the MILF and has caused a rift between the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) over the latter’s supposed inability to send help to the beleaguered SAF troopers on time.

The US’s involvement in the operation has also been subject of speculation. According to the PNP’s official probe into the operation, at least 6 US nationals were at the tactical command post of the operation on January 25, giving "real-time information" to troopers on the ground.

The same US nationals assisted in retrieving survivors following the operation, the same PNP report said.

Days after the operation, the PNP SAF turned over Marwan’s DNA sample to FBI operatives in General Santos city, instead of handing it over to the PNP’s Crime Laboratory. – Bea Cupin/Rappler.com