A senior Philippine Islamic militant on the US government’s “most-wanted” list was arrested in Manila yesterday after a seven-year long manhunt, Philippine authorities said.
Khair Mundos, who had a US$500,000 US government reward on his head, was detained at 9.30am close to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport where he was staying with relatives, the Philippine police and military said after a joint raid.
The US Department of State’s “Rewards for Justice” Web site describes him as a “key leader and financier” of Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic militant group blamed for the worst extremist attacks in the Philippines.
The group was founded with seed money from al-Qaeda and 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 was arrested “on the first-ever money laundering charges against terrorists,” according to the Rewards for Justice site.
It said Mundos confessed in custody to having arranged the transfer of al-Qaeda funds to Abu Sayyaf’s top leader for bombings and other criminal acts throughout Mindanao.
Philippine authorities have also charged him with multiple counts of murder.
Mundos had been captured in 2004 in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, a largely lawless area about 1,000km from Manila where Abu Sayyaf is based, but was among dozens of militants who escaped from Kidapawan City prison in 2007 in 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.
Senior Superintendent Roberto Fajardo, Manila’s criminal investigation chief, on Tuesday said Mundos had fled to the capital to avoid pursuit in the south, but 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,” Fajardo told reporters.
Mundos was detained just outside the house of a relative and did not resist arrest, according to another senior police officer.
Major General Eduardo Ano, the Philippines’ head of military intelligence, said Mundos’ capture was a major blow for Abu Sayyaf, which has proved an enduring threat despite its relatively few numbers and a US-military supported offensive.
“Those people lost one of their leaders ... and they will be feeling insecure,” Ano told reporters.
He said Mundos had been one of the links between Abu Sayyaf and foreign extremist groups.
Mundos is one of the grou’s three main Islamist ideologues, military intelligence officers say. His brother, Burham Mundos, is also a key financier with direct links to al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian ally, Jemaah Islamiyah.
Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding two European birdwatchers who were kidnapped in 2012 and is blamed for the bombing of a passenger ferry in Manila Bay in 2004.