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At least 43 members of the elite Special Action Forces died while 11 were injured in what the Philippine National Police called a “misencounter” of the police with Muslim rebels in Maguindanao province on Sunday.

In a televised press briefing, PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director Leonardo Espina confirmed the death of 43 of his men after a day-long firefight between policemen and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Barangay (village) Tukalanipao.

Of the 43 SAF commandos, seven were commissioned officers, the rest were non-commissioned police officers. One of the non-commissioned policemen was reported missing.

Espina said the police operation turned into a misencounter after the SAF members attempted to arrest most wanted terrorist and Jemaah Islamiyah member Zulkifli bin Hir, or “Commander Marwan.”

Espina said the operation against Marwan started at 10 p.m. of January 24, Saturday.

“However, when the SAF members were withdrawing, they were ambushed by the BIFF. Some had a misencounter with the MILF,” he said.

Neither denying nor confirming the death of Marwan, Espina said “it was likely that he was killed in the process” during the encounter.

In the same briefing, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said they would not confirm the death of Marwan until the DNA results come out.

After honoring the fallen officers in Camp Crame, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Espina flew to Maguindanao to meet with cabinet secretaries and military officials to look into the deadly incident.

It was earlier reported that members of the SAF commandos, who were after a Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah leader and a bomb-expert, ventured into an MILF camp, sparking a firefight.

“The most important thing for us now is to extract all the bodies and bring them to their families. State honors will be given to them,” Espina added.

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