MANILA, Philippines – Abu Sayyaf
Fawas Ajjur, whom security officials suspect may be an Al Qaeda (search) operative, was arrested Saturday in southern Zamboanga city as he arrived after a baffling, circuitous journey that took him to Russia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, the officials said.
Ajjur did not have a visa and was taken into custody by immigration agents at the Zamboanga airport, Immigration Commissioner Alipio Fernandez Jr. said.
He was later allegedly identified by captured Abu Sayyaf guerrillas as one of the foreign militants who trained them in bomb-making near Patikul town on the southern island of Jolo island a few years ago, a security official said on condition of anonymity.
Ajjur strongly denied the allegation and any terrorism links, the official said.
Regional Police Director Vidal Querol said a Middle Eastern terror suspect arrested days earlier was to set be presented later Thursday at a Zamboanga news conference to be attended by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Querol said the suspect has ties with Abu Sayyaf militants and is involved in terror plots here. He would not elaborate.
Security officials said they suspect Ajjur returned to the Philippines to further train local insurgents or to take part in an attack.
Ajjur's route on the way here confused investigators. He started in Russia, flew to Thailand and took a train to Malaysia, where he shuttled between two areas before boarding a plane to Zamboanga, officials said.
Philippine authorities have been alert for the possible entry of foreign Islamic militants who could join Abu Sayyaf bombing plots. The notoriously brutal group has threatened attacks to avenge the deaths of commanders killed in a botched jailbreak two weeks ago.
Intelligence officials say one plan by the Abu Sayyaf, together with the Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah and local Muslim converts, was to stage two separate car bomb attacks during the recent Easter holidays.
Troops seized nearly 1,300 pounds of explosives last week from a suburban Manila home based on information from a recently captured suspected Filipino militant.
Police say that that some danger may have passed, but that they will stay on alert to guard an international parliamentarians' conference in Manila next week.
The Abu Sayyaf, which is on a U.S. terror list, has been blamed for kidnappings for ransom and other deadly attacks, including a ferry bombing that killed 116 people last year in the country's worst-ever terror attack.
Its ranks have been gutted by U.S.-backed offensives, but it has reportedly bolstered its loose alliance with Jemaah Islamiyah and local armed groups to widen its reach.