Tue, Oct 14, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Skepticism over bomber's death

EXECUTION? Philippine officials said fugitive Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi was killed in a shoot-out with soldiers; Mindanao residents claim there was no sign of a firefight

REUTERS AND AP , MANILA

Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi , left, with a unidentified police official, signs a document at the Philippine Department of Justice in Manila in this file photo from Sept. 19 last year. The Philippine military said Al Ghozi was killed on Sunday in a shootout with soldiers and police.

PHOTO: AFP

Philippine troops killed a bomb-making expert from a Southeast Asian terror network on Sunday, but there was much scepticism yesterday that he may have been executed ahead of a visit by US President George W. Bush.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said the killing of fugitive Indonesian militant Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi on Sunday after what officials said was a shoot-out in the Mindanao region showed that "terrorists" would never succeed here.

Officials said al-Ghozi, a senior leader of the Jemaah Islamiah group and one of the most wanted men in Asia since escaping from a Manila prison in July, was killed after opening fire on police and troops who stopped the van he was in.

Television showed grisly pictures of a body lying in a morgue dressed only in underwear and surrounded by security officials.

But police officers and residents in the southern town where the killing took place said there was no sign of a firefight, fuelling rumors that al-Ghozi had already been captured and then killed at the best time to boost Manila's anti-terror image.

"Al-Ghozi's killing reads like an awfully crafted script. The timing is just too perfect," said Teodoro Casino, secretary-general of the left-leaning Bayan activist group.

"We suspect al-Ghozi was captured much, much earlier to be killed just at the right moment, which was yesterday," he said.

Bush flies to Manila for an eight-hour visit on Saturday.

"The death of al-Ghozi signals that terrorists will never get far in the Philippines," Arroyo said in a statement before flying to Mindanao to personally check on the situation.

"We are determined to end this transnational threat decisively," she said.

Al-Ghozi was jailed last year for 17 years for possessing explosives and falsifying documents. He was also accused of masterminding bombings that killed 22 people in Manila in December 2000.

He slipped out of the heavily secured police intelligence building on July 14 with two suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf, after apparently being allowed to walk out of his cell.

His escape was a severe embarrassment for the government. The army killed one of the escaped rebels soon after the break-out and recaptured the other last week.

Philippine police chief Hermogenes Ebdane, who flew to Mindanao yesterday, denied allegations that al-Ghozi's killing had been staged.

Ebdane said two men had opened fire on police who stopped their car near the town of Pigcawayan in North Cotabato af-ter receiving a tip-off on al-Ghozi's planned route.

"It was just unfortunate that when the troops flagged down the vehicle, instead of stopping, they fired at our troops and there was a brief shootout," Ebdane said.

He said al-Ghozi fired two shots, and that police later recovered a .45-caliber pistol from him.

The other man traveling with al-Ghozi was able to escape in the darkness and heavy rain, he said.

Ebdane said al-Ghozi had been pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital with gunshot wounds to his chest, both arms and one side of his body.

"Only a few people could have witnessed the armed encounter because it was raining hard at that time," Ebdane said.

He said fingerprints had confirmed the body was al-Ghozi's and that it would likely be turned over to Indonesian officials without an autopsy being conducted, in line with Muslim custom.

However, the police chief of Pigkawayan town, where Ebdane said al-Ghozi was gunned down, denied there was any gunfire in the area at the time, or that al-Ghozi was fatally shot there.

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