Philippine Police Arrest Suspected Leader of Kidnap Gang

Police arrested the suspected leader of a group U.S. officials say has terrorist ties and has been blamed for kidnapping wealthy Filipinos and foreigners, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Saturday.

Faizal Marohombsar and 10 suspected members of a group known as the Pentagon Gang were arrested before dawn in Manila's Quiapo district, Arroyo said.

"We have captured a very big fish," said Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., head of the National Anti-Kidnapping Task Force.

Among those arrested were Marohombsar's wife and a police officer from the same region in the southern Philippines where he operates, Ebdane said.

Marohombsar is a former commander of the separatist Moro National Liberation Front who surrendered to the government but then turned to banditry, claiming officials reneged on promised livelihood projects for him and his followers.

He also claimed his followers were being assassinated by government agents, forcing him to go underground.

The Pentagon Gang is on a U.S. government list of foreign organizations judged to have terrorist connections.

It has been blamed for abducting wealthy Filipinos in the southern Philippines and several Chinese engineers on a government irrigation project. One of the Chinese was killed and another wounded in a rescue attempt by the military.

Police also blamed the Pentagon Gang for kidnapping Pierre Belanger of Ottawa, who was held hostage for nearly two months before being rescued in December. Police killed two gunmen during that effort.

Marohombsar recently told radio station DXMS in southern Cotabato city that he was not involved in the October abduction of an Italian priest, the Rev. Giuseppe Pierantoni.