Five years after the controversial Mamasapano raid, a trusted lieutenant of slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, remains elusive.
During the raid to capture Marwan, several high value targets were able to slip away. Among them was Salahuddin Hassan, who is said to be among the key leaders of Al-Khobar Group, which has been tagged as behind bombing and extortion activities in Central Mindanao region.
Aside from Hassan, other HVTs who were able to slip away were foreign militants Malaysian Amin Baco and Singaporean Muhammada Ali Abdul Rahiman, also known as Muawiyah.
But Muawiyah was killed in an airstrike last March 2019 in the marshy villages inside what the military refers as Salibo-Pagatin-Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak (SPMS) box in Maguindanao.
While Baco, who is also known as Yohan, remains unknown amid reports that he may have been killed during the five-month battle in Marawi in 2017.
In a quick interview with Major Gen. Diosdado Carreon, commander of the Army’s Sixth Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, confirmed that Hassan is a bomb expert and among those was able to slip away during Special Action Force-led operation on January 25,2015.
The raid left five civilians, 44 SAF troopers and 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters dead.
Hassan is still operating with about 30 to 40 armed followers in the marshy areas of Maguindanao, said Carreon who was in Davao City recently for the change of command ceremony at the Eastern Mindanao Command.
But even as it’s always been BIFF leader Abu Torayfe who’s always on the spotlight, the military official acknowledged that Hassan is more notorious than Torayfe, whose real name is Esmael Abdulmalik. According to Carreon, it appears that the Hassan has the ‘authority’ in the group.
Moreover, the military official downplayed anointment of Torayfe as the emir of Dawlah Islamiya (Islamic State) group saying that it is as mere “titular position.” Carreon pointed out that Hassan, who has a P1.3 million bounty, still poses the biggest threat.
Furthermore, the intelligence officer affirmed that Hassan is indeed more notorious and more influential given his vast connection with local terrorist groups.
From 2009 to 2010, he added, Hassan moved to Basilan and linked up with key Abu Sayyaf leaders Furuji Indama, Khair Mundos and Termiji Akmada, alias Imran.
In 2013, Imran was arrested in Marawi City along with Marwan’s brother-in-law Renren Dongon while Mundos was arrested in Manila in 2014. According to him, Hassan’s mission in Basilan was to discuss the unification with Abu Sayyaf and some Jemaah Islamiya militants operating in Mindanao.
While in Basilan, the intelligence officer said that Hassan had served as one of the instructors among young recruits in bomb making techniques. “It was Hassan who brought Marwan to Maguindanao from Basilan in 2013,” he recalled.
For almost 20 years now, Hassan had been a subject of manhunt operations but the latter appears to be elusive. Many of his contemporaries have already been killed or captured. Perhaps, it’s only Hassan that’s left among the key figures of the local terrorist cell. So what makes him so slippery?
Intel sources reveal that Hassan was said to be a former member of a Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) before he broke away and organized the Al-Khobar Group sometime in 2005.
The MILF has repeatedly denied the allegation, saying that there’s no such thing as SOG of the MILF.
Hassan hails from Kidapawan City and a son of religious Maguindanaon preacher.
Moreover, the intelligence officer further said that Hassan’s group is mainly consist of his close relatives and operates in the Ligawasan Marsh.
Hassan, who is now in almost 40 years old, is facing multiple murder charges before the local court for allegedly perpetrating several bomb attacks on bus companies and business establishments in Central Mindanao.
Hassan was recently tagged as among those behind the bomb attacks in Isulan and Sultan Kudarat in 201 as well as the bombing of a mall in Cotabato City on December 31, 2018 that left two persons killed and at least 30 others injured.
Aside from Hassan, the whereabouts of yet another protégé remains unknown amid reports that he was already killed in Marawi battle.
Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. General Cirilito Sobejana identified Malaysian terrorist as Amin Baco who also slipped away during the Mamasapano raid
However, Sobejana said that Baco may have already been killed during the five-month Marawi battle in 2017, while admitting that there was no body had been recovered.
“But we are continuously getting substantial information para masasabi talaga natin na walana sya. He’s never heard na,” the military officer added.
The same intelligence officer disclosed that Baco took part in the planning of the Marawi siege, citing that the Malaysian terrorist was the one who took thesurveillance videos of the city prior to the war.
Also known as Yohan, Baco is said to be a computer expert and used to assist Marwan in communicating with their contacts abroad since they share a hut together in Tukanalipao.
Acknowledging that there were reports of Baco’s sightings in Sulu, Sobejana theorized that it could part of propaganda. “Last na balita is in Sulu kasi he is a son-in-law of Sawadjaan. Buteven in sulu there’s no proof of life.”
The military official was referring to Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, a leader of an Abu Sayyaf faction operating in Sulu. “But it can be a strategy na low profile lang sya but ang importante dyan, we don’t rest on our laurels.”
Sobejana assured that the military remains steadfast in their security postureto prevent the terrorists from launching any atrocities. “Our level of vigilance remains high.”