Philippines' Aquino demands MILF rebels surrender top militant after commandos' death

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III reacts after he delivers his second televised address regarding the killing of 44 police officers in a clash in southern Philippines inside the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines on Feb 6, 20
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III reacts after he delivers his second televised address regarding the killing of 44 police officers in a clash in southern Philippines inside the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines on Feb 6, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

MANILA (AFP) - Philippine President Benigno Friday demanded Muslim rebels surrender a top terror suspect who escaped a bloody police raid or be "run over" in a government manhunt.

In a televised address, Aquino sought to calm public outrage over the death of 44 police commandos in the chaotic bloodbath that targeted most wanted terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as Marwan, who was believed killed, and Abdul Basit Usman.

"If Usman is in your territory, I expect you to surrender him to authorities, help arrest him, or don't interfere in the manhunt," Aquino said, addressing the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

"To those who might have gone astray, I warn you that you are going against the state. We will run over you," he said.

The MILF signed a peace treaty with Manila last year aimed at ending a decades-old rebellion that has claimed more than 120,000 lives.

"This should serve as a warning. We will capture Usman, whatever your decision is," he said.

Aquino has been heavily criticised over the botched January 25 raid on the southern island of Mindanao which descended into chaos when police were ambushed by rebel forces, including members of the MILF.

Usman, charged in Philippine courts over bombings since 2003, is believed to have links to the Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah and the local Abu Sayyaf outfit. The US government is offering a US$1 million (S$1.25 million) reward for his capture.

DNA analysis by the FBI indicated that Malaysian bombmaker Marwan, a top JI militant and a key suspect in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, was killed in the southern Philippine raid, Philippine authorities said. The US had offered a US$5 million bounty for him.

"I would say that it is the most significant terrorist kill in recent years," international terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, told AFP, referring to Zulkifli.

Jakarta-based security analyst Sidney Jones agreed Marwan was a "big name", but said his death would not have a huge impact on the new generation of fighters.

"It's symbolic because he was one person who always seemed to evade capture," Jones, the director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, told AFP.

Aquino also announced Friday the resignation of national police chief Alan Purisima, who oversaw the police assault.

Purisima, a close friend and former bodyguard of the president, was serving a six-month suspension due to corruption charges at the time of the raid.