Top Filipino militant previously believed to be dead is alive, and a threat: Military

MANILA (AFP) - A Filipino militant bomb-making expert who had been believed dead recently eluded a military raid of a Muslim guerrilla camp in the Philippines, disproving earlier reports of his demise, the military said on Saturday.

Abdel Basit Usman is on the United States government's list of most-wanted "terrorists", described a "bomb-making expert", and the State Department offered an US$1 million (S$1.25 million) reward for information leading to his arrest in 2009.

The Filipino press had reported in 2010 that Usman was among several people believed killed early that year in a US drone attack that targeted a Pakistani Taleban leader in a remote area of northern Pakistan. However, Philippine military officials now say that the reports of his death were erroneous.

Usman, who the Philippine and US governments say has links to the Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf group of South-east Asian militants, was seen in the camp of another armed Muslim group on the island of Mindanao, southern Philippines military spokesman Colonel Dickson Hermoso told AFP.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is a small offshoot of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim guerrilla force that waged a decades-long armed rebellion in the southern region of Mindanao.

"We launched a raid two weeks ago. There was a firefight and we recovered an arms cache, but he was able to get away," Col Hermoso said, adding: "He's the one training the BIFF members who are conducting bombings in central Mindanao."

"Based on what we know, he is still active," Philippine military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP Saturday.

"As far as we're concerned he's with the BIFF," he said.

Lt-Col Zagala said the Philippine government was offering a 6.3 million peso (S$179,600) reward for information leading to Usman's capture.

There is a standing warrant for his arrest on charges of multiple murder, Lt-Col Zagala added.

"We are securing our communities and vital installations from his activities," Col Hermoso added.

The MILF signed a peace treaty with the Philippine government early this year that had both sides committing to create a Muslim self-rule area in the region.

The BIFF has rejected the deal and vowed to fight on.

Two BIFF members were killed in the latest military operation on June 10, when the military also said they seized firearms and bomb-making equipment at the rebel training camp near the town of Shariff Saydona Mustapha.