He was a big fish. But one that got away.
Abdul Basit Usman is a slippery bomb expert who can be deceptively calm even under intense police interrogation – one who probably endured physical and psychological abuse from his captors while under police custody; one who most likely became hardened yet tempered by his brief stay in detention.
When he was arrested weeks after the bloody Fitmart Plaza bombing attack in April 2002, nobody thought he would one day rise to become the most wanted Muslim militant in the Philippines.
During his interrogation at the Sarangani Provincial Police Station, Usman admitted he went to Pakistan where he once worked as an overseas worker.
Short but stocky, Usman later escaped from police custody 6 months after his arrest. He became the most hunted Filipino bomber with a $1-million reward for his capture offered by the US government.
He was twice reported to have been killed – in a precision bombing attack in Pakistan near the Afghan border, and in a series of military shellings in Maguindanao – only to have his name resurface Sunday, January 25, in the bloody raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where his Malaysian counterpart Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as “Marwan,” was reportedly killed.
Following his escape in October 2002, Usman was believed to have joined forces with the late Tahir Alonto, former commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whom the military accused of heading the Pentagon kidnap-for-ransom group.
Usman’s custodial officer, the late Police Senior Inspector Aucelito Cabang, was lured into a surrender ruse and went into the territory of Alonto to recapture Usman, only to be executed along with 3 other police officers.
A former Police Regional Office 12 intelligence officer who interrogated Usman said the bomb expert showed good behavior while in police custody and was made “preso caballero (minimum security detainee).”
He was not locked up in his detention cell at the Sarangani Provincial Police Office, then headed by now retired Police Senior Superintendent Willie Dangane.
Usman easily escaped.
Usman was a resident of Bentung Sulit in Polomolok, South Cotabato – the same place where Tahir came from.
One of his brothers was slain in a police operation following the Fitmart Plaza bombing in General Santos City where 15 were killed and at least 55 others wounded.
Usman was suspected to have assembled the bomb that exploded just outside the entrance of the department store.
In a recent video, Usman showed not only defiance but a completely different persona.
He is no longer the soft-spoken young detainee but an agitated rabble-dousing, rifle toting commander of the Bangsamoro Justice Movement (BJM), said to be a splinter group of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). – Rappler.com
Editor’s note: The author, while still the managing editor of Sun.Star General Santos, was allowed briefly into the interrogation room where he saw a handcuffed Abdulbasit Usman being questioned by intelligence officers.