Police have confirmed that there were casualties in Thursday’s air strike in Parang, Sulu, but remained clueless on identities despite military claims that those killed were Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members.

“Ang maa-assure lang namin is may binomba dun ‘yung Air Force, ma-assure din namin is may namatay, pero with regards to the identity eh zero pa kami,” Chief Supt. Bienvenido Latag, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police director, said in a phone interview.

Hours after the predawn air raid, military officials and spokesmen said 15 were killed, including JI operatives Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Muhammad Ali bin Abd Al-Rahman alias Muawiyah, and Gumbahali Umbra Jumdail alias Dr. Abu, a top Abu Sayyaf leader.

On Friday, Armed Forces spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos announced names of eight other fatalities, but admitted that no bodies were found at the bombarded area.

The eight comprise alias “Jumong,” a suspected Malaysian JI operative; Abu Sayyaf members Moammar Jumdail alias Ting, a son of Dr. Abu; Tati Jamhali; Tuan Nash Lipae; alias Leong; alias Teng; alias Muin; and alias Julpe.

“We are not in possession (of the bodies) right now, but we already have locations, some were taken deep into the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) territory,” Burgos said.

Latag, for his part, said policemen who went to the area could not even tell how many were killed after OV-10 planes dropped four 260-pound bombs.

“Kino-collect pa ang reports galing sa ground kasi iba-iba ang sinasabi ng mga tao dun. May nagsasabi na labindalawa (ang namatay), may nagsasabi na walo,” he said.

“Immediately after the bombing nagpunta sila (policemen) doon, na-pinpoint nila exactly kung saan bumagsak ‘yung bomba and according to them, talagang may nawasak na mga bunker at saka may mga traces of blood, but wala silang nakuhang tao,” Latag said.

Latag, who once served as an operative in Sulu during the adbuction and captivity of three International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers in 2009, said the bombs fell somwhere between Brgys. Duyan Kabau and Lanao Dakulah.

“Kung makikita mo talagang area ng MNLF ‘yan, area ng MNLF na pinapasyalan ng Abu Sayyaf, actually hindi kontrolado ng Armed Forces yan, pulis lang ang nakakapasok diyan kung minsan,” he said.

The area is near Mt. Taran, where Abu Sayyaf gunmen held captive Filipina Mary-Jean Lacaba, Swiss national Andreas Notter, and Italian Eugenio Vagni, who were abducted in Jolo after inspecting water and sanitation facilities for the ICRC, Latag said.

Burgos said the military is now asking members of the slain militants’ families to let them see the bodies for “identification procedures,” including DNA testing.

Malaysian authorities are also getting in touch with the AFP to recover the body of Marwan, whose mother reportedly requested for her son’s remains to be returned to their home in Muar, Johor, the military spokesman added. (John Roson)

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