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EXCLUSIVE: Kill Pope threat real; Marwan behind plot 


Now it can be told: The massive security measures implemented during the five-day visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines was due to a real and an unimaginable plot to kill him by a group of suspected Southeast Asia-based terrorists led by Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir (Marwan), whom Philippine authorities said was killed during the bloody Jan. 25 operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
 
A highly classified intelligence report, shared to Philippine police authorities by their foreign counterparts, details the supposed assassination plot masterminded by Marwan, using his own-designed explosives which should have been planted on several places where Masses were to be held and attended by multitudes of Catholic devotees.
 
The threat, which continues to be a nightmare for the members of local and foreign intelligence communities even after the Pope has left the country, was said to have been completely neutralized, when the Philippine National Police announced the killing of Marwan during the January 25 operation in Mamasapano.
 
The operation to get Marwan, however, cost the lives of 44 members of the elite PNP-Special Action Force following an encounter with forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and its breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

At the Senate hearing on Monday, relieved SAF commander, Director Getulio Napeñas, confirmed having received “unverified” information that the Jemaah Islamiyah, in coordination with Marwan, was planning to bomb the Pope convoy in Manila on Jan. 18.

At the time, the Pope was scheduled to hold a Mass at the Quirino Grandstand.

“These reports were not confirmed and neither admitted nor denied by the Philippine National Police. But the fact, however, remains that there exists this information,” Napeñas said.

But on the same day, Malacañang downplayed the supposed bomb plot.

“No specific report to this effect was received, and this threat was thereafter assessed to be minimal,” National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia said in a message forwarded to the media by presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

Also on Monday, military spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla Jr. said they received information on Marwan's supposed plan to bomb the papal convoy but maintained that it was unverified.

"We got wind of this piece of info but this was unverified and unconfirmed information," Padilla said.  
Marwan
 
“Marwan” an engineer trained in the United States, gained notoriety as an expert bomb maker, who specializes in designing cellular phone controlled IEDs. Until his reported death, Marwan was on the most wanted list by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with a $5-million reward on his capture dead or alive.
 
Another suspected terrorist, Abdul Basit Usman, a local bomb expert with a $1-million price on his head, was the secondary target of the operation.
 
Marwan was said to have trained about 150 would-be bombers on how to assemble homemade bombs using sophisticated fusing system such as cellular phones; Integrated Circuit Timer (IC timer), Silicon Control Rectifier (SCR) and other modern fusing system for IEDs.
 
Evidence shows that Usman and Marwan may be behind CDO blast last July 26, 2013

Further, Marwan was said to be an expert in “demilling” of a mortar shell, or the process of changing the explosives inside the mortar cartridge from the original TNT/RDX or COMPOSITION B to a PETN in order to increase the velocity of detonation of an IED.
 
The intelligence report said that after the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will be coming to the Philippines, an alleged ranking Abu Sayyaf member, Khair Mundos, was arrested in Parañaque City in June last year.

Investigators later learned that Mundos was seen in Roxas Boulevard in the area of Rizal Park, where the Pope was to officiate Mass during his visit. This further elevated the threat assessment against the Pope’s possible assassination plot by a terrorist group. 
 
The possible threat was strengthened by the video which went viral in November last year showing an ISIS member, reportedly a Filipino, participating in the beheading of a non-Muslim believer as confirmed by an FBI agent who said the Filipino belonged to the Tausugs in Mindanao where the Abu Sayyaf, Moro National Liberation Front and MILF thrived.
 
An alleged Filipino ISIS member reportedly participated in the beheading of a non-Muslim believer. The AFP, on the other hand, could not confirm this.

The gruesome video prompted Iraqi authorities to warn of a possible attack on the Pope following the ISIS caliphate doctrine or the practice of eliminating anybody who goes against their dogma.

On Nov. 19 last year, military information chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc texted GMA News Online that they were still verifying if the purported ISIS member shown in the video was indeed a Filipino. "The authenticity of the video couldn't be ascertained. The law enforcement agencies must be consulted."
 
The report also said that Marwan and Basit Usman were the only terrorists capable of encouraging some BIFF, MILF and other disgruntled groups of doing a repeat of the JEMAAH onslaught in Mindanao during the early 2000s.
 
It said that signatures of bombs made by Marwan and Usman were seen in the explosives planted and exploded in areas such as Fitmart Department store in General Santos City, KCC Mall also in General Santos City, and the most recent, the July 26, 2013 Cagayan de Oro bombing wherein several doctors were killed and wounded.
 
Signature bombs of Marwan and Usman were reportedly seen at the crime scene during an explosion in Cagayan de Oro last July 26, 2013. Several doctors were killed in the incident.

In its conclusion, the report said that the death of Marwan and Usman would be very valuable to the security of the Philippines as well as that of the other regions in Southeast Asia which is called then by the Jemmah Islamiyah as “Matique 2,” which comprises the neighboring countries of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. 

Security measures
 
To counter the threat, police and military officers tasked to secure the Pope immediately coordinated with the various telecommunication providers to shut-off their services for almost the entire duration of the papal visit.
 
Remote controlled devices such as drones, mini-airplanes, cars and others that can be used to transport IEDs, poison gas, and other similar deadly devices were banned a day before the actual visit.
 
The possibility of assassination using high powered firearms was not discounted, considering the presence of high-rise buildings in the major routes of the Pope’s parade. Proper coordination with the buildings’ security personnel had been implemented for the so-called “force multiplier” for the police force.
 
The aqueducts, manholes and other big drainage system along major routes of the Pope’s parade have been sealed, marked or guarded to prevent possible planting of IEDs.
 
Parking space for vehicles of devotees who will attend the big gathering for the Pope scheduled all around Metro Manila were likewise secured and were situated far from where there will be a big congregation of people in anticipation for possible parking of car bombs.  
 
The five-day Pope visit was generally peaceful save from about seven incidents of breach of security investigated and inquested by the police before the prosecutor’s offices in Manila, Taguig and Quezon City.

Purisima: Main proponent of intel report vs. Marwan
 
A police source said resigned PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima was the main proponent of the intelligence report that led to the operation to get Marwan. It was a continuing action and exchange of intelligence information from the PNP’s foreign counterparts who were all at the forefront of the fight against terrorism in Southeast Asia. 
 
This operation was hatched in 2010 by the Office of the Director for Intelligence (DI), and was officially code named Oplan Wolverine the following year. 
 
On the same year, the plan was endorsed by Purisima's office and the US-trained SAF was tapped to carry out the operation.
 
The plan was not revised despite Purisima’s suspension from office.

Instead, Purisima with three other PNP officers and two civilian assets updated President Benigno Aquino III on “Oplan Wolverine” on Dec. 25, 2014, and on Jan. 9, 2015 particularly on the assassination threat against the Pope. — RSJ/KG, GMA News