At least 43 Philippine police officers have been killed in an attempt to capture a high-profile terrorism suspect wanted by the United States and Malaysia. Confusingly, the suspect, Zulkifli Bin Hir, is affiliated with the Jemaah Islamiyah jihadist group, but the rebels who killed police officers are part of a different group called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is engaged in peace talks with the government, and authorities say they did not intend to target it in the raid. From the New York Times:
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front had not been informed of the police operation, which triggered a series of firefights between government forces and rebels, said Mohager Iqbal, a peace negotiator for the rebels.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas called the incident a “misencounter” between government and rebel forces and said the operation would be investigated to determine whether proper procedures were followed to avoid conflict with the rebels under the cease-fire pact.
“We are hopeful and confident that this will not derail the peace talks,” he said during a briefing Monday on the incident.
Officials said they “believe” Zulkifi was killed in the operation and are conducting DNA tests to confirm his death. According to the FBI, Zulkifi is/was a U.S.-trained engineer who “conducts bomb-making training for terrorist organizations” including the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group.
In June 2014 the Pentagon said a United States counterterrorism unit based in the Philippines would be “phased out” because of the declining threat posed by terror groups in the region.