The Hunt for Al-Ghozi: An “Anti-Terror” Campaign that Terrorized Lanao?

In October 7-9, 2003, before the reported killing of Al-Ghozi, a “Bantay Ceasefire” field monitoring mission was conducted by the Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC) along with local non-government organizations in areas in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte. The mission looked into the pursuit operations against Al-Ghozi in relation to the July 19, 2003 GRP-MILF ceasefire, among others.

The name Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi did not ring a bell for many Filipinos not until July 14, 2003, during the official state visit of Australian Minister John Howard, when he escaped a maximum security cell at the Philippine National Police headquarters along with two members of the local Abu Sayyaf, Omar Opik Lasal and Abdulmukim Ong Edris. Al-Ghozi was serving a 17-year jail term for explosives possession and had confessed to his involvement in the Dec. 30, 2000 bombings in Metro Manila.

A massive manhunt ensued then involving more than 60 special police tracking teams composed of about 5,000 officers combed Southern Philippines and at least two military battalions. A total of P8 million was offered as bounty for the recapture of the fugitives.

Al-Ghozi was killed in a shoot-out in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato on October 12, the national police chief finally reported.

From August till October when the manhunt operations were ongoing, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had repeatedly complained of massive troop deployment and AFP incursions in MILF “areas”, violating the July 19 GRP-MILF ceasefire and endangering the resumption of formal GRP-MILF peace talks in Malaysia. The military claimed that Al-Ghozi was hiding in camps of the 12,500-strong MILF in Mindanao. The massive search operations also displaced people from their communities, with an estimated 214 families fleeing as of August 11.

In October 7-9, 2003, before the reported killing of Al-Ghozi, a “Bantay Ceasefire” field monitoring mission was conducted by the Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC) along with local non-government organizations in areas in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte. The mission looked into the pursuit operations against Al-Ghozi in relation to the July 19, 2003 GRP-MILF ceasefire, among others.

The hunt for Al-Ghozi, presented by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as a “terrorism fight in the southern Philippines” , resulted in human rights violations in Lanao. In its single-minded campaign to recapture a fugitive terrorist that had shamed the government in the eyes of the international community, the armed forces may have terrorized predominantly Muslim communities in Lanao.

Would the hunt for Al-Ghozi be the face of future “anti-terror” campaigns in Mindanao?

Read full text of report (in .PDF, 88kb, 12 pp.).

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