MANILA, Philippines – Philippine army troops and police on Wednesday captured a top Filipino commander of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group who is on the U.S. list of most-wanted terrorists and has acknowledged receiving Al Qaeda funds to finance bombings in the country.
Philippine security officials said Khair Mundos was arrested in a slum community near Manila's international airport but 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-ranking terrorist suspects to be captured in the country in years. He was captured in 2004 but escaped in 2007.
Military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Eduardo Ano described Mundos' capture as a major blow to Abu Sayyaf, where he has served as a top commander, financial and logistical officer, trainer and planner of attacks.
The U.S. State Department says Mundos, who also faces money laundering charges, has acknowledged that he arranged the transfer of Al Qaeda funds to the Abu Sayyaf to finance bombings and other attacks in the Philippines.
The State Department announced a $500,000 reward in 2009 for the killing or capture of Mundos. U.S. authorities said he has worked as a financier for Abu Sayyaf.
He has led Abu Sayyaf militants on southern Basilan and is known to have links with members of the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah.
Abu Sayyaf, which has an estimated 300 armed fighters split into about six factions, has been blamed for deadly bomb attacks, ransom kidnappings and beheadings. It was founded in the early 1990s on jungle-clad Basilan, near Zamboanga, a region 860 kilometers (540 miles) south of Manila where American counterterrorism troops have been stationed for more than a decade.
Washington has declared Abu Sayyaf a terrorist group and blames it for deadly attacks on American troops and civilians in the southern Philippines.