Security forces on Saturday captured a Philippine Muslim extremist group’s leader, who also was wanted by the United States for attacks against Americans, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced.
In a statement on government television, Arroyo congratulated police and soldiers for catching Radulan Sahiron, describing him as “a very notorious leader” of the Abu Sayyaf militant group.
The one-armed Sahiron, Abu Sayyaf’s chief of staff, was on a U.S. list of wanted terrorists. Authorities have linked him to several kidnappings, including the April 2000 abduction of 21 Western tourists and Asian workers from Malaysia.
He was also wanted for the deaths of two Americans who had been kidnapped in 2001.
Sahiron was captured in a special police operation in Zamboanga Sibugay province, about 480 miles south of Manila, said Philippine National Police chief Arturo Lomibao.
“It looks like he was hiding down there,” Lomibao said, adding that Sahiron would be flown to Manila on Sunday.
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U.S. Embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop said he was uncertain if Washington had been officially informed of Sahiron’s capture. “We’ve seen the reports and we hope they are true and in that way we would welcome them,” he said.
Lomibao said Sahiron joined Abu Sayyaf in its early stages in the 1990s with the group’s late founder, Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani. Over the years, he fashioned an image of himself as a local “Robin Hood” on the southern island of Jolo, where he used to roam the forests on a horse.
Sahiron eluded numerous military operations, slipping from island to island and taking advantage of familiar terrain and the support of southern sympathizers. The Philippine government had offered a $90,900 reward for his capture.
In April 2000, Sahiron was one of several Abu Sayyaf leaders who carried out the daring abduction of tourists and workers from the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan.
The group held 10 Finnish, German, French and South African tourists, plus nine Malaysians and two Filipino workers for months, releasing them only after Libya reportedly paid millions of dollars in ransom.
A year later, Abu Sayyaf rebels raided the Philippine resort of Dos Palmas where they seized missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan., tourist Guillermo Sobero of Corona, Calif., and 17 Filipino tourists and workers.
The guerrillas allegedly beheaded Sobero, and Martin Burnham died during a military rescue operation in June 2002.
The kidnappings prompted U.S. counterterrorism training of Filipino troops in the southern Philippines. The training has since been credited for the capture and killing of dozens of Abu Sayyaf leaders and commanders.
Sahiron and current Abu Sayyaf chieftain, Khadaffy Janjalani — a younger brother of the group’s founder — are among five of the group’s leaders wanted by the U.S. for allegedly killing Burnham and Sobero.
The U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrests and convictions of the five and has placed the Abu Sayyaf on its list of terrorist organizations.
Abu Sayyaf, which is seeking an independent Muslim state in the southern Philippines, has purported links to al-Qaida.