Security forces on Saturday captured a Philippine Muslim extremist group's leader, who is also 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 nabbing Radulan Sahiron, describing him as "a very notorious leader" of the Abu Sayyaf. The group has been blamed for many deadly bombings and the kidnapping of Western tourists, including missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham from the U.S. state of Kansas.
Philippine National Police chief Arturo Lomibao said that Sahiron _ the Abu Sayyaf's chief of staff _ was captured around 4 p.m. (0800 GMT) in a special police operation in Zamboanga Sibugay province, about 770 kilometers (480 miles) south of Manila. Lomibao said Sahiron, who is wanted in 21 ransom kidnapping cases, joined the Abu Sayyaf in its early stages in the 1990s with the group's late founder, Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani.
U.S. Embassy spokesman, Matthew Lussenhop, said he was unsure if Washington had been officially informed of Sahiron's capture. Armed forces spokesman Col. Tristan Kison said the military was not involved in Sahiron's capture.
The one-armed Sahiron had tried to embellish his image as a local "Robin Hood" on the southern island of Jolo, where he used to roam the forests astride a horse. He eluded numerous military operations, slipping from island to island and taking advantage of familiar terrain and the support of sympathizers in the south.
He shot to international fame as one of the Abu Sayyaf leaders who carried out the daring abduction of tourists and workers from the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan in April 2000. The group took 10 Finnish, German, French and South African tourists, plus nine Malaysians and two Filipino workers whom they held for months and released only after Libya reportedly paid millions of dollars (euros) in ransom.
A year later, the group raided the Philippine resort of Dos Palmas where they seized the Burnhams, American tourist Guillermo Sobero and 17 Filipino tourists and workers. The guerrillas allegedly beheaded Sobero, and Martin Burnham died during a military rescue 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 United States for allegedly killing Burnham and Sobero.
The U.S. government has offered a US$5 million (Ђ4.23 million) reward for information leading to their arrest and conviction, and has placed the Abu Sayyaf on its list of terrorist organizations. The Philippine government has also offered a separate 5 million peso reward for Sahiron, AP reports.