Police capture senior Abu Sayyaf supporter in southern Philippines

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines, AP

A senior aide of a Muslim extremist rebel leader was captured in a southern Philippine city rocked recently by bombings that killed 15 people, police said Friday.

Senior Supt. Bartolome Baluyot, regional police chief for central Mindanao, said Salip Abdullah, a key aide of Abu Sayyaf chief Khadafy Janjalani, was arrested Thursday night in Labangal village, near General Santos city.

He said Abdullah faces 61 counts for kidnappings and others for murder and multiple murder on the southern island of Basilan, including the abduction and killing of a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Roel Gallardo, two years ago.

Police in Manila said the government had offered a reward of 150,000 pesos (dlrs 3,000) for information leading to Abdullah’s capture. It wasn’t immediately clear if anybody qualified for the reward.

Baluyot did not say whether Abdullah is accused of participating in a deadly trio of bombings on April 21 in General Santos, 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) southeast of Manila, that killed 15 and injured 71. But he said “they are the terrorists orchestrating these bombings.”

A caller to a radio station claimed responsibility for the bombings in the name of the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

Police said two suspects, who were arrested a day later, claimed more attacks were planned around the country to destabilize the government. Three other suspects were arrested with two bombs and bomb-making materials.

Baluyot said Abu Sayyaf leaders are seeking refuge in General Santos and elsewhere to escape a joint Philippine U.S. counterterrorism exercise on Basilan, about 300 kilometers (190 miles) west of the city.

About 1,000 U.S. troops are in the southern Philippines to train Filipino soldiers to better fight the Abu Sayyaf and improve infrastructure on Basilan island, the base for 60 to 80 guerrillas.

The Abu Sayyaf has been holding Wichita, Kansas, missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap hostage on Basilan for nearly a year.

Gen. Roy Cimatu, commander of military forces in the south, awarded Gold Crosses for Gallantry in Combat to eight soldiers Friday who killed at least eight Abu Sayyaf rebels in a clash earlier this week. A ninth soldier was being treated for wounds suffered in Monday’s fight and was not present to receive his medal.

The soldiers, patrolling the coast off the southern city of Zamboanga in a boat, came under fire from about a dozen guerrillas in another boat, officers said. The soldiers returned fire, hitting the rebels’ engine which then caught fire, setting off explosives and ammunition and killing several rebels. The military said they recovered eight bodies but expect to find four more in coming days.

On Wednesday, police also killed four suspected Abu Sayyaf rebels trying to enter General Santos city by boat, in a pre-dawn gunbattle at a coastal village.