The Southeast Asian Jihadist terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah reportedly planned to kill Pope Francis during his recent trip to the Philippines by detonating a bomb along the route of the papal motorcade, but the attempt was prevented by adjustments to the Pope’s program.
On Monday, former Special Action Force (SAF) commander Getulio Napeñas testified before the Philippine senate that the Philippine National Police had received information that Jemaah Islamiya, in coordination with Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (alias Marwan), planned to set off a bomb near the papal convoy in Manila on January 18, 2015.
Jemaah Islamiyah—translated as “Islamic Congregation”—is Al Qaeda’s arm in the region and seeks to establish an Islamic Caliphate across Southeast Asia.
The explosive device manufactured by Marwan was placed on Kalaw Street, where the papal caravan was to pass en route to Rizal Park, the site of the papal Mass attended by between six and seven million people.
Military spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla Jr. said they had received information on Marwan’s alleged plan to bomb the papal motorcade.
“We got wind of this piece of info but this was unverified and unconfirmed information,” Padilla said.
According to Padilla, the security plan on the papal visit was adjusted to ensure the pontiff’s safety. “Just the same planning adjustments were made in consideration of this and to ensure protection of the Pope,” he added.
Marwan, considered the “Osama Bin Laden of Southeast Asia,” was one of the most dangerous terrorists in Southeast Asia and reportedly had a bounty of five million dollars offered for his capture. Marwan specialized in bomb-making, including those detonated remotely by mobile phones.
The Philippine government asked telecommunication companies Globe and Smart to weaken or block cellphone signals over Metro Manila during Pope Francis’ five-day visit. This measure, which affected some 12 million people, sparked controversy but in hindsight may have been effective.
Napeñas’ statements Monday arose during a Senate investigation into the death of 44 members of the Special Action Force during an operation in January aimed at stopping Marwan. The action took place in Mindanao on January 25, and resulted in Marwan’s death as well, a fact confirmed by the FBI in February.
During Monday’s hearing, Napeñas spoke of the public danger posed by “this Malaysian terrorist” but added that this danger “no longer exists on his death on January 25, 2015. Thanks to our new breed of 44 heroes and the other members of PNP-SAF who executed Oplan Exodus,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.