Manila: At least 43 Philippine police commandos were killed in a fierce battle with Muslim guerrillas after launching an assault in which they may have killed one of southeast Asia's most-wanted terrorists, officials said on Monday.
A police Special Action Force member remained missing while 11 others were wounded in the daylong clashes yesterday in a far-flung village of Mamasapano town in Maguindanao province in the biggest single-day combat loss for the Philippine government in recent memory, officials said.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas called the commandos "fallen heroes" who sacrificed their lives to try to capture Malaysian bombing suspect Zulkifli bin Hir, or Marwan. The top terror suspect may have been killed by the commandos, he said.
Another top terror suspect, Filipino bomb-maker Abdul Basit Usman, managed to escape, according to Roxas.
After attacking Marwan, the police commandos came under fire from hardline Muslim insurgents in the marshy village of Tukanalipao while some strayed elsewhere and got entangled in a firefight with insurgents belonging to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main Muslim rebel group, which last year signed a new peace deal with the government, national police Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina said.
The United States has offered up to USD 5 million for Marwan's capture and USD 1 million for Usman. Both have been blamed by US and Philippine authorities for deadly bomb attacks and providing bomb-making training to al-Qaida-linked militants in the country's south.