Exclusive: FBI says it had no prior knowledge of deadly Philippine raid targeting militants

Sat Jan 31, 2015 4:08pm EST
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By Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI had no prior knowledge of a police raid in the Philippines last Sunday to arrest wanted militants that went awry and left 44 police dead, an FBI spokesman told Reuters on Saturday.

Philippine media had reported that the FBI helped orchestrate the raid, which targeted Zulkifli bin Hir, an Islamic militant on the U.S. law enforcement agency's list of "most wanted terrorists."

"The FBI was not involved in the planning or execution of the operation. We do express our deepest condolences to the brave officers of the Philippine National Police who lost their lives in the line of duty," FBI spokesman Josh Campbell said.

Campbell said the FBI is analyzing a biological sample provided by the Philippines of an unknown individual killed in the raid to determine if it belongs to bin Hir.

"It is routine for the FBI to process biometric information that may positively identify a subject and his or her whereabouts," Campbell said.

A Malaysian member of the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah militant group behind numerous bombing attacks in the Philippines, the FBI had offered $5 million for the arrest of bin Hir.

The clash, which the Philippine government has described as a "misencounter," shattered a three-year ceasefire between Philippines police and Muslim rebels in the south of the country.

It also dealt a temporary setback to peace talks, Manila's chief peace negotiator said on Saturday, appealing for renewed efforts to keep the process on track.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Will Dunham)

Members of the Philippine National Police's (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) unit carry metal caskets containing the bodies of slain SAF police who were killed in Sunday's clash with Muslim rebels, upon arriving at Villamor Air Base in Pasay city, metro Manila January 29, 2015.  REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco