Philippines arrests alleged al-Qaida-linked bomber

AP News
Posted: Nov 30, 2011 3:55 AM
Philippines arrests alleged al-Qaida-linked bomber

Philippine authorities captured an al-Qaida-linked bomber suspected in at least six attacks, including a 2002 karaoke bar explosion that killed an American Green Beret and a hotel blast this week that killed three people, officials said Wednesday.

Police and military intelligence officers captured Hussein Ahaddin in a hide-out of the Abu Sayyaf rebel force in the southern city of Zamboanga late Tuesday. Ahaddin, who uses the guerrilla name Abu Tiih, belonged to an urban-based group of Abu Sayyaf fighters behind bombings and extortion, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said.

Ochoa, who heads the government's Anti-terrorism Council, said authorities have panned out in search of Ahaddin's companions hiding in Zamboanga city, a bustling port city 540 miles (860 kilometers) south of Manila.

The Abu Sayyaf was founded on Basilan island in the Philippines in the early 1990s as an offshoot of a violent Muslim insurgency that has been raging for decades. U.S.-backed Philippine offensives have weakened the group, which is blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist organization, but it remains a key security threat.

Ahaddin has been implicated in six attacks, the latest of which was a powerful blast that killed three people, wounded 27 others and destroyed the Atilano Pension House on Sunday near downtown Zamboanga city, he said.

Police suspected Abu Sayyaf militants detonated a bomb made from about 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of ammonium nitrate and TNT powder, which ignited a fire and devastated the two-story building.

Zamboanga Mayor Celso Lobregat said Ahaddin has long been wanted for past bombings in his city and investigators were trying to determine if he played a role in Sunday's bombing. Additional troops have been deployed, and police have intensified road checkpoints to strengthen security in the trading city of more than 700,000 people.

Police arrested two others _ a man and a woman _ in Zamboanga operations leading to Ahaddin's arrest, but there was no evidence that they were involved in terrorism, said a security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized speak to reporters.

Ahaddin has been hunted for his alleged involvement in an Oct. 2, 2002 bombing that killed a U.S. Green Beret counterterrorism trainer and two Filipino civilians in a karaoke bar outside an army camp in Zamboanga city's Malagutay district. Twenty-five other people, including another U.S. soldier, was wounded by the bomb which was hidden in a parked motorcycle, Ochoa said.

Zamboanga city police chief Senior Supt. Edwin de Ocampo told The Associated Press that Ahaddin has acknowledged involvement at least in the Malagutay bombing and nearly simultaneous explosions last month that wounded 11 people in a cockfighting arena and another budget hotel in Zamboanga city.

Ahaddin's group bombed a lottery outlet and fruit stand in the city also last month, killing one and wounding six others, police said.

He and his group have also been blamed for nearly simultaneous bombings of two popular stores that killed seven people and wounded 150 others on Oct. 17, 2002 and the bombings of a parked passenger bus and a motorcycle that wounded 30 people in Zamboanga city.

The Abu Sayyaf has about 380 armed fighters and survives mostly on extortion and kidnappings for ransom. Al-Qaida is believed to have provided funds and training to the group, which is notorious for deadly bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.