The Philippines is assessing whether to seek custody of a top Asian terrorist suspect, who hid for years in its volatile south and allegedly plotted deadly attacks with Filipino militants before he was arrested in Pakistan early this year.
Philippine officials said Thursday that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency officials have offered to send Umar Patek back to Indonesia, his homeland where he is wanted for his alleged role in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, or to the Philippines, where he is accused of involvement in a number of deadly bombings.
The 2002 Bali bombings were Southeast Asia's worst terrorist attack.
Pakistan has taken steps to relinquish custody of Patek, whose real name is Anis Alawi Jaffar, and his Filipino wife after capturing them Jan. 25 in the garrison town of Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was killed in a highly secretive U.S. commando attack four months later.
Pakistani officials had kept Patek's arrest secret until The Associated Press first broke news of his capture in late March.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said authorities were trying to assess if Patek's presence could strengthen terrorism-related criminal cases lodged against him in Philippine courts before deciding whether to seek his custody.
"There is also an additional security burden if he is brought here," Gazmin told The Associated Press.
A senior Philippine military official said the government would benefit from a "treasure trove of information" that could come from Patek, who fled to the southern Mindanao region a year after the 2002 Bali bombings with Dulmatin, a fellow Indonesian militant gunned down by police in Indonesia last year.
The Philippines could send investigators to interrogate Patek if Manila decided not to seek his custody, said the official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
The Philippines will receive Patek's wife, identified as Ruqayya Binte Hussain Lucino from southern Sarangani province, once she is repatriated, the official said.
It was not immediately clear if Patek's wife faces criminal cases.
The arrest of Patek, who had a $1 million U.S. bounty on his head, ended a 10-year international manhunt and was a major achievement in the global fight against al-Qaida and its offshoots. If he cooperates, the militant could give valuable intelligence insights on al-Qaida's current state and its hardy Southeast Asian affiliates.
Indonesian officials have said that Patek traveled to Abbottabad to meet bin Laden but that there have been no indications so far that they actually met.
Patek traveled to Pakistan to try to secure al-Qaida funds for his terror plans in the Philippines, where he has struck an alliance with the brutal Abu Sayyaf extremist group, the Filipino official said.