Filipino militant linked to al Qaeda arrested

Posted on June 12, 2014

PHILIPPINE SECURITY forces yesterday captured a top al Qaeda-linked Islamist wanted by the United States and involved in the kidnapping of Western tourists, and hailed the arrest as a major blow to his militant network.

The Christian-majority Philippines has a Muslim minority largely based in its resource-rich southern islands where Muslim rebels have been fighting for autonomy for years.

The head of military intelligence, Major Gen. Eduardo Ano, said the captured militant, Khair Mundos, was an expert bomb-maker and the “spiritual leader” of the Abu Sayyaf faction, which rose to notoriety early last decade by kidnapping foreigners.

“This is a big blow to their organization,” Mr. Ano told reporters yesterday.

“They lost one of their leaders and they now feel insecure. We will try to get them one after another, we will not stop.”

The US had offered a $500,000 bounty for the arrest of Mundos. The Philippines offered P5 million ($114,400) for his recapture after he escaped from prison in 2007.

Mundos fled from the southern Philippines as security forces closed in on him and had been in hiding for months with relatives in the Manila suburb of Parañaque City, Mr. Ano said.

Soldiers and policemen swooped on his hideout and grabbed him early yesterday.

Security forces seized four guns, as well as training manuals used by the Indonesian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

“We finally tracked him down,” said Benjamin Magalong, head of police criminal investigation group.

“This is a product of two months surveillance work.”

Mundos had raised funds for the Abu Sayyaf in the Middle East and funneled money from al Qaeda for bombings in the southern Philippines before his first arrest in 2004.

In 2001, Mundos bought a speed boat used in a raid on a Philippine island resort in which several tourists, including three Americans, were kidnapped.

One American woman was rescued a year later, but two Americans including her husband were killed.

The militants are currently holding three people from China, one from Japan, one from the Netherlands, one Swiss and two Germans, Philippine officials say.

The US State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” Web site describes Mundos as a “key leader and financier” of the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic militant group blamed for the worst extremist attacks in the Philippines.

The group, founded with seed money from al Qaeda, is believed to have only a few hundred militants but has successfully carried out deadly bomb attacks and kidnappings, often targeting foreigners and Christians.

Mundos had been captured in 2004 in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, a largely lawless area roughly 1,000 kilometers from Manila where the Abu Sayyaf is based.

He was arrested “on the first-ever money laundering charges against terrorists”, according to the “Rewards for Justice” Web site.

It said Mundos confessed in custody to having arranged the transfer of al Qaeda funds to the Abu Sayyaf’s top leader for bombings and other criminal acts throughout Mindanao.

He was also charged in the Philippines with multiple murder charges.

However, Mundos was among dozens of militants who escaped from Kidapawan City prison in Mindanao in February 2007, as part of a well-planned break.

Muslim insurgents using grenade launchers blasted their way into the jail before dawn, then pinned down a handful of guards with rifle fire while Mundos and the others fled.

Manila’s criminal investigation chief, Senior Supt. Roberto Fajardo, said Mundos had fled to the capital to avoid pursuit in the South, but he would not disclose how long the militant had been hiding in the city.

“It was getting too hot (in the South) so he came here while waiting for things to cool down,” Mr. Fajardo told reporters.

Mundos was detained just outside the house of a relative and did not resist arrest, according to another senior police officer involved who asked not to be named.

Mundos is one of the three main Islamist ideologues of the Abu Sayyaf, according to military intelligence officers. His brother, Burham Mundos, is also a key financier with direct links to the JI.

The US military has had about 500 troops rotating through the southern Philippines since 2002 to train Filipino soldiers how to combat the Abu Sayyaf.

Many Abu Sayyaf leaders have been captured or killed, but it continues to pose a threat in the South, kidnapping people and carrying out bomb attacks.

The militants are able to draw support from local Muslim communities who feel they have been persecuted for centuries by Christian rulers in Manila.

They also get money for weapons from their successful kidnap-for-ransom ventures.

The Abu Sayyaf was also blamed for the bombing of a passenger ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 in which more than 100 people were killed, the worst militant attack in the Philippines’ recent history.

Mr. Ano said Mundos was not in Manila to plan or lead any attack in the capital, but was simply trying to avoid capture.

No other details about the raid were immediately given. -- Reuters, AFP with Alden M. Monzon