Philippine police have arrested a militant who allegedly was involved in a 2003 airport bombing and belonged to a radical Islamic convert group blacklisted by U.S. authorities for plotting attacks against the American Embassy in Manila, officials said Tuesday.
Ricardo Ayeras, a founding member of the Rajah Solaiman Movement, was captured by police intelligence and counterterrorism officials late Monday near a hospital in the capital, national police intelligence chief Manuel Barcena said.
Although it has been considerably weakened by a yearslong crackdown, the Rajah Solaiman group is still regarded a key threat by U.S. and Philippine officials because of the ability of its remaining members _ mostly based in Manila and other cities _ to help larger extremist groups like the local Abu Sayyaf and the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah to carry out urban attacks.
Police intelligence officials say the group currently has a few dozen members.
The U.S. Embassy welcomed news of the 37-year-old Ayeras's arrest, commending the Philippines "on its persistent efforts to arrest lawless terrorist elements," spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson said.
Police served a warrant on Ayeras for his alleged involvement in the Feb. 20, 2003 bombing that killed a soldier and wounded six civilians, including children, near the gate of Awang airport in the country's south, Barcena said.
Ayeras, who received bomb-making training in Muslim rebel strongholds in the south, allegedly played a role in a plot to bomb several business establishments in metropolitan Manila in 2005. Police foiled the plot and seized half a ton of explosives in a house in the capital intended for the attacks, Barcena said.
Ayeras is among suspected terrorists who have been included on an international police and U.N. terrorist blacklist, he said.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury also imposed financial sanctions against the Rajah Solaiman Movement and its key members, including Ayeras, in 2008, ordering their bank accounts and assets, if any, to be frozen in the United States.
The Treasury Department said the group has received training and money from al-Qaida-linked terror groups and has plotted attacks against high-profile commercial and American targets in the Philippines, including the U.S. Embassy in Manila.