MANILA, Philippines – Police have arrested one of the alleged masterminds of a ferry bombing that killed 116 people four years ago, a Philippine anti-terrorism official said Saturday.
Ruben Pestano Lavilla Jr. was deported to Manila on Saturday after being arrested last month in Bahrain, said Anti-Terrorism Council Chairman Eduardo Ermita, who is also the most senior member of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's Cabinet.
Lavilla was arrested after he applied for a job at the Philippine Embassy in Bahrain, Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor said.
Blancaflor said Lavilla is "the brains" of the Rajah Solaiman Movement, a group of Islamic converts that is allied with two Al Qaeda-linked groups — the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim extremist group based in the southern Philippines.
Bahraini authorities arrested Lavilla on July 24 after a Philippine Embassy security check on job applicants found he had outstanding warrants for murder and rebellion in the Philippines, Blancaflor said.
It took a month for the deportation process to be completed, including a confirmation by the Bahraini government of the existence of the Philippine arrest warrants, the creation of a team to bring Lavilla back to Manila and other preparations that "conform with the international law on human rights," Blancaflor said.
"If you are a terrorist, wherever you are, wherever you hide, the law will catch up with you — that's the most important thing here," he said.
He said Lavilla fled the country about a month after the Feb. 27, 2004, bombing of the Superferry 14.
The blast ignited a fire that swept through the ferry as it was sailing in Manila Bay. It was the second-worst terrorist attack in Southeast Asia after 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 202 people, many of them foreign tourists.
The Rajah Solaiman Movement and its Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah allies also have been blamed for a series of bombings on Feb. 14, 2005, in Manila and two southern cities that killed about eight people and wounded 150 others.
In June, Washington moved to impose financial sanctions against Rajah Solaiman and its leaders and members. Any bank accounts or other financial assets found in the United States that belong to them would be frozen.
The U.S. Treasury Department said the group has received training, money and operational assistance from Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf group and from private Saudi sources that channeled funds through charitable private organizations in the Philippines.
Between 2002 and 2005, Saudi financiers and at least one Saudi-based Filipino financier also contributed money to Rajah Solaiman for training camps and planned terrorist attacks, the Treasury Department alleged.