Philippine troops captured a Muslim rebel leader, who has been linked to a series of bombings and a beheading, and has been accused of providing protection to two terror suspects wanted by the United States, officials said Monday, according to media reports.
Army and police forces arrested Mohammad Ali Tambako and five associates late Sunday, while the militants were traveling to a seaport in General Santos City in the country’s south. The men were arrested peacefully, and three grenades and two guns were found on their person, the Associated Press reported.
Tambako founded the Justice for Islamic Movement with about 70 other armed fighters last year. The group aims to create an ethnic Moro state modeled on Sharia law.
He had allegedly given refuge to Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists with a $5 million bounty on his head.
He is also suspected of sheltering Filipino bombing suspect Abdul Basit Usman, who has been linked to multiple bomb attacks since 2003, and has reportedly joined the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM). Usman has a $1 million reward for his capture.
FBI officials said that DNA evidence suggested Marwan was killed in a January antiterrorist raid in the southern Philippines, the AP reported. However, authorities have not confirmed his death so far.
Philippine forces have been coordinating a major offensive against rebel groups in the country’s south after a botched raid in January left 44 police commandos dead. Police said it is highly likely that Tambako’s group was involved in that operation. The government’s military response has so far killed about 100 alleged militants and led to Tambako’s arrest.
Tambako was formerly a member of MILF and BIFM, but was kicked out last year after his men beheaded a farmer while attacking a Christian community in the country’s largely Muslim south. Officials said his arrest is important because he can clarify whether Usman is alive, and if so, could possibly offer insights into his current location, local news site GMA News reported.