MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine police commandos have captured a militant from the violent Abu Sayyaf group who is linked to past kidnappings and helped Southeast Asian terrorists travel in and out of the southern Philippines, officials said Sunday.
Regional police chief Senior Superintendent Edgar Danao said a special police action force and agents of the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime arrested Ahmadsali Badron on Saturday in Lamion village in Tawi Tawi, the country's southernmost province. Tawi Tawi is near Sulu province, where the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf has jungle strongholds.
Badron, who also uses the names Asmad and Hamad Ustadz Idris, has been implicated in the 2000 kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf gunmen of 21 people, mostly European tourists, from Malaysia's Sipadan diving resort, Danao said.
Badron is also suspected of helping arrange the entry and exit from the southern Philippines of Asian operatives belonging to the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah militant network. Among the top terror suspects who managed to travel in the country's south with Badron's help was Dulmatin, an Indonesian militant accused of helping plot the 2002 nightclub bombings that killed 202 people in Bali, Indonesia, Danao said.
Dulmatin, a suspected bomb-maker who was on a U.S. list of most-wanted terrorists, hid for years with the Abu Sayyaf in the southern Mindanao region and returned to Indonesia, where he was gunned down by police in March 2010.
Badron allegedly received funds from a Palestinian militant that were used to spread Islamic extremism. A Muslim preacher from Sulu, Badron is also believed to have kept ransom money raised by the Abu Sayyaf. He has been identified by former hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf, according to a police report.
The Abu Sayyaf is blamed for the country's worst bomb attacks, kidnapping sprees and for beheading some of its hostages during the last two decades.
The Abu Sayyaf was founded in 1991 on southern Basilan island with suspected funds and training from Asian and Middle Eastern radical groups, including al-Qaida. It came to U.S. attention in 2001 when it kidnapped three Americans, two of whom were later killed, and dozens of Filipinos.
The kidnappings prompted Washington to deploy hundreds of troops in the country's south in 2002 to train Philippine forces and share intelligence, helping the military capture or kill most of the Abu Sayyaf's top commanders. Now without a central leader, the group still has close to 400 armed fighters and is still regarded as a key threat.