Philippine troops capture suspected Spanish militant backer

AP News
Posted: Jan 24, 2018 3:33 AM
Philippine troops capture suspected Spanish militant backer

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops have captured a Spanish man they said was carrying grenades and bomb parts and is believed to be a supporter of Islamic State group-linked Abu Sayyaf militants on southern Basilan island, where he acknowledged visiting "the jungle."

Capt. Exequel Panti and two other army special forces officers filed complaints of illegal possession of explosives Wednesday against Abdelhakim Labidi Adib before Department of Justice prosecutors. Adib denied he owned the two grenades and bomb parts the army officers said they seized from him.

The army officers told prosecutors in the presence of journalists that they captured Adib late Monday in the hinterlands of Basilan's Maluso town, where the Abu Sayyaf has a presence. A local Abu Sayyaf militant with Adib managed to escape, they said.

Adib "is a known Abu Sayyaf sympathizer and ardent supporter for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the Philippines," Panti and two other army officers said in a joint statement they handed to prosecutors.

After receiving intelligence on the presence of a suspected militant and a foreigner off Maluso town, Panti said he and other army officers set up a checkpoint and later captured Adib, who tried to throw away a backpack containing the grenades, bomb parts, his passport, driver's license and other identification cards.

When Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong held up a rifle grenade and a hand grenade, along with a blasting cap and other bomb parts, and asked if they belonged to Adib, the handcuffed 20-year-old shook his head.

Adib told prosecutors he "came from the jungle" in Basilan when asked what places he visited, but refused to say why he traveled there and whom he met.

Adib told a reporter in Spanish that he traveled to the Philippines for the first time last year to meet Filipino women and was on his way back to Manila through southern Zamboanga city when he was arrested. Asked why he visited Basilan, Adib refused to answer and said he was planning to head back to Spain from Manila.

Ong said Adib's Philippine visa has expired and he also faces possible complaints for violation of the country's immigration regulations.

Predominantly Muslim Basilan is the birthplace of the Abu Sayyaf, which has been blacklisted by the U.S. and Philippine governments for ransom kidnappings, beheadings, bombings and other violence.

Although the Abu Sayyaf has been considerably weakened by years of offensives in Basilan, which is 550 miles (880 kilometers) south of Manila, dozens of its armed fighters with an unspecified number of foreign militants still pose a threat and remain the target of army assaults.

A leading Abu Sayyaf commander in Basilan, Isnilon Hapilon, led a siege of southern Marawi city with hundreds of other local and foreign militants last year but was killed when troops crushed the uprising after five months. More than 1,100 combatants and civilians, including many of the militants, were killed in the clashes.