MANILA, Philippines – Police commandos have arrested an al-Qaida-linked militant allegedly involved in the killing of American tourists and soldiers in the Philippines, an official said Wednesday.
Arabi Sali is suspected of involvement in a roadside bombing that killed two U.S. soldiers in the southern Philippines in 2009, said Felizardo Serapio, executive director of the Philippine Center for Transnational Crime.
He is also wanted on charges of kidnapping in connection with the abduction of Americans and other foreigners about a decade ago, Serapio said.
Sali was included in the U.S. Department of Defense Rewards Program, set up to encourage the public to help with the "arrest or neutralization" of militants, and he has a $20,000 bounty, Serapio said. The U.S. Embassy in Manila and a spokeswoman for U.S. troops helping train Filipino soldiers fighting the militants in the southern Philippines could not immediately confirm whether Sali was covered by the U.S. rewards program.
Sali was a member of the notorious Abu Sayyaf terrorist group when it went on a kidnapping spree about 10 years ago. It seized 21 people, mostly European tourists, from the Malaysian resort of Sipadan in 2000, and abducted three Americans and 17 Filipinos in 2001 from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan province southwest of Manila.
The militants beheaded one of the Americans about a month later and another was killed during a military rescue the following year. The third was rescued.
The Sipadan hostages were released separately over a period of several months after the militants received millions of dollars in ransom reported paid by Libya. The other captives from Dos Palmas either escaped, had been freed after ransom payments or were rescued by security forces.
Sali also allegedly participated in the kidnapping of members of the religious sect Jehovah's Witnesses on Jolo island in 2000, Serapio said. The religious group had hiked to the militants' camp to seek the release of the Western tourists when they were kidnapped themselves.
Sali's group also staged a series of attacks against Philippine troops in 2009 and 2010 and set off a roadside bomb that killed two U.S. soldiers and one Philippine marine on Jolo in September 2009, Serapio said.
The Abu Sayyaf, notorious for ransom kidnappings, bombings and beheadings, has been included in the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. Although the group has been considerably weakened by battle casualties and surrenders, the militants still number about 340 and remain a national security threat, according to the military.