THE military is still verifying a report that a long-wanted Moro extremist was killed in Pakistan, wire reports stated.
"If the reports are true, then it is good news for us because the killing of Basit Usman means one less terrorist on the street," Lieutenant General Benjamin Dolorfino, military commander in the southwestern Philippines, was quoted from the wires. "We still have to verify the reports."
Abdul Basit Usman was reportedly killed in an American drone strike close to the Afghan border earlier this month, Pakistani intelligence officials said Thursday.
Two military intelligence officers in northwestern Pakistan said Usman was believed killed on January 14 on the border of Pakistan's South and North Waziristan tribal regions.
Eleven more militants were also killed in the strike on a militant compound.
But it was not possible to confirm the reports, and there had been no previous indication Usman was in Pakistan.
If confirmed, the death of Usman would represent another success for the covert program of missile strikes that the US has carried out since 2008.
Authorities previously said the attack had targeted the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud.
The US State Department's list of most-wanted terrorists identifies Usman as a bomb-making expert with links to the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf militant ground and the Southeast Asian Jemaah Islamiyah network. It puts a bounty of US $1 million for information leading to his conviction.
There have been an unprecedented number of attacks this month following a deadly December 30 militant attack on a Central Intellegence Agency (CIA) base in Afghanistan.
Waziristan and other parts of Pakistan's border region have long been home to militants from all over the world, primarily Arabs. Up to several hundred Filipino and other Southeast Asian militants traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s to fight the Soviets and attend al-Qaeda run camps, but they are no longer believed to be in the region in significant numbers any more.
The apparent presence of Usman in Waziristan may raise fresh questions as to links between al-Qaeda in Pakistan and militants in Southeast Asia, which has seen several bloody bombings and failed extremist plots since 2000. Many were carried out by militants who had returned from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Pakistani officials cited militant informers as the source of the information on Usman's death.
One of them said Usman had been in Waziristan for one year after arriving from Afghanistan. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media on the record.
In the Philippines, two senior intelligence officials said they were unaware of any report regarding Usman's death. A US military official based in the southern Philippines, the stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, said he also had not received any report. They too spoke on condition of anonymity.
Authorities in Philippines, Pakistan, and United States had not previously mentioned any likelihood of Usman being in Pakistan.
US officials do not often talk about the missile strikes or their targets, but they have in the past confirmed the deaths of several mid and high-level al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. The Pakistan government publicly complains about the attacks, but is believed to provide intelligence for many of them.
The US government earlier offered a reward of up to $50,000 or around P2.5 million for anyone who could provide information leading to the arrest of Usman.
The US embassy said Usman is a known terrorist with links to Jemaah Islamiyah and is believed responsible for bombings in Mindanao in October 2006 that killed eight and left 30 others wounded.
Usman is also implicated in a recent series of bomb attacks in the cities of Cotabato, General Santos, and Kidapawan in Central Mindanao that killed seven people and wounded 37 others.
He is believed to be a foreign-trained bomber and one of the leaders of a terror group operating in southwest Mindanao. (AP/Sunnex)