Philippine authorities arrest a leader of the Abu Sayyaf extremist Muslim group
MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Police and soldiers have arrested one of the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim extremist group holding some 20 captives in the southern Philippines, officials said Monday.
National police Chief Leandro Mendoza said Nadzmie Sabtulah, also known as Commander Global, is the highest ranking member of the Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremist group arrested yet. In the raid Sunday night, police also arrested three junior rebels, he said.
He said civilian informants tipped police off to a hide-out in General Santos City. The four are members of Abu Sayyaf, a group holding up to three Americans and other hostages on the southern island of Basilan in what its leaders say is part of a movement for an independent Muslim state.
Sabtulah participated in a mass kidnapping of foreigners at a beach resort in Malaysia last year. The government offered a reward of $100,000 for information leading to his capture.
”This is a big setback for the Abu Sayyaf,” Mendoza said.
It was not immediately known whether Sabtulah and the other suspects were involved in the kidnapping April 27 of three Americans and others in a raid on a southwestern beach resort.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan described Sabtulah, known for his trademark beret, scarred jaw and political theories, as the highest and most respected commander of the Abu Sayyaf. He was able to be captured, Adan said, because of the government’s offer of rewards for the arrest of members of the Abu Sayyaf.
”The reward system is working because informants are coming out,” Adan said.
Mendoza said the three other suspects participated in a botched raid in April on a beach resort in the southern island of Mindanao. The gang that raided that resort was driven back by gunfire from resort security staff.
Other Abu Sayyaf members then raided the Dos Palmas beach resort on the southwestern island of Palawan, capturing 20 people, including the three Americans.
The rebels took more hostages in raids on a hospital and on a coconut plantation on Basilan island. Some have escaped or been freed, reportedly for ransoms paid by their families.
Island residents recently reported seeing two American captives – Kansas missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham – in Basilan’s mountainous heartland, called Sampinit Complex.
Abu Sayyaf commander Abu Sabaya has said he beheaded a third American, Corona, Calif. resident Guillermo Sobero. His body has not been found, however, feeding speculation that he may still be alive.
Thousands of troops have been hunting the Abu Sayyaf and their hostages for more than a month on Basilan, about 560 miles south of Manila.
Mendoza said police have set up ”monitoring groups” in southern cities and in Manila to watch for Abu Sayyaf members and leaders. Troops continue to pressure the group in their bases on the southern islands of Basilan and Jolo.
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