MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine security forces on Wednesday captured a top Filipino commander of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group who is on a U.S. list of most-wanted terrorists and has acknowledged receiving al-Qaida funds to finance bombings in the country.
Khair Mundos did not resist when army troops and police arrested him in a slum community near Manila's international airport. It was not immediately clear why he was in the capital. The military and police have been hunting him for his alleged involvement in bombings and kidnappings.
Mundos is one of the highest-ranked terrorist suspects to be captured in the country in years. His arrest deals a major blow to the Abu Sayyaf, where he was a top commander, a combat trainer, spiritual leader and a plotter of bombings and ransom kidnappings, according to military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Eduardo Ano.
"He's a high-value target," national police spokesman Senior Superintendent Reuben Sindac said. The State Department announced a $500,000 reward in 2009 for Mundos' killing or capture. The Philippine government also offered a 1.2 million peso ($27,200) reward.
The U.S. State Department says Mundos, who was captured in 2004 but escaped in 2007, has acknowledged in the past that he has arranged the transfer of al-Qaida funds to the Abu Sayyaf to finance bombings in the Philippines.
He is one of the original leaders of the Abu Sayyaf, which has seen many of its commanders killed or captured in more than a decade of U.S. military-backed Philippine military offensives. He is believed to be the current leader of Abu Sayyaf forces on southern Basilan, an impoverished, jungle-clad primarily Muslim island where Mundos and two brothers joined the group.
The Abu Sayyaf was founded in 1991 in Basilan, about 880 kilometers (550 miles) south of Manila. With an unwieldy collective of preachers and outlaws, it vowed to wage jihad, or holy war, but lost its key leaders early in combat, sending it on a violent path of extremism and criminality.
Washington has listed the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist group and blames it for deadly attacks on American troops, missionaries and civilians in the southern Philippines. The group still has an estimated 300 armed fighters split into about six factions and has been blamed for deadly bomb attacks, extortion, ransom kidnappings and beheadings, according to the military and police.
Two years ago, Mundos was wounded but managed to escape when police commandos raided a hinterland community near southern Zamboanga city where he was training about two dozen young Abu Sayyaf recruits. Police killed five militants and rescued a kidnapped Chinese engineer in one of the huts in the area.
Several pictures seized by authorities from captured Abu Sayyaf fighters in the past and obtained recently by The Associated Press show Mundos giving lectures in Arabic to young recruits in a hut in the south with M16 rifles and grenade launchers lying by their side.