Conflict & Justice

Philippines: army pinky-swears top terrorist is dead


The Philippine military said he was killed in a US-backed raid. But Zulkifli Bin Hir, a Malaysian terrorist bomb maker with a $5 million price on his head, may still be alive.


National Counterterrorism Center

When Philippine forces slay one of Asia's most-wanted terrorists with America's help, apparently you're just supposed to take their word for it.

Even when they can't find his corpse.

Six months have passed since the Philippine military proclaimed the death of Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as "Marwan." That is no small announcement: the jungle-dwelling bomb maker, purported to be a central figure in the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiya terror group, has been deemed worthy of a $5 million bounty from the American government.

But this bluster is offset by one detail: the military never found his body and various outlets, the New York Times among them, have quoted regional counterterrorism officials who say he's still alive.

Now, in lieu of letting this story quietly fade, the Philippine army is doubling down on its claim.

The Manila-based Inquirer reports that army leaders insist the "burden of proof" falls upon those who believe he might be alive. DNA tests of anonymous remains left behind by an air strike are still being processed, the Inquirer reports.

Their proof? "Intelligence reports" from the scene. That is quite likely military speak for someone -- a soldier? a villager? -- claiming the suspect is dead. At least in the Osama bin Laden killing, officials promised they conducted a DNA test before dumping his body into the sea.

It's unclear if even the US, which helped coordinate the air strike, is buying it. The National Counterterrorism Center has yet to remove Zulkifli from its wanted list and appears to still offer that $5 million head price.

If Zulkifli bin Hir is actually alive, he doesn't need a well-placed bomb to humiliate his enemies. He just needs a cheap camera and a YouTube account.