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Philippine suspect held over Malaysia abductions

ZAMBOANGA, February 2, 2011 (AFP) – A Philippine Islamic militant accused of taking part in the 2000 kidnappings of European tourists on a Malaysian island resort has been arrested, the military said Wednesday.

Security forces detained the suspect, known variously as Arabi Sali or Amil Sali, in a raid Tuesday on the remote Philippine Tawi-Tawi islands near the Malaysian state of Sabah, said Army Lieutenant-Colonel Randolph Cabangbang.

“He is charged… for his role in the kidnappings,” Cabangbang, a military spokesman in the southern Philippines, told reporters.

He said Sali was part of an Abu Sayyaf unit that raided the dive resort of Sipadan in April 2000 and abducted 21 people, mostly European tourists, and held them hostage for over a year in the southern Philippines.

The hostages were eventually handed over to a government representative from Libya, which sent a jet to pick up the group.

The Philippine military said the hostages were ransomed off for several million dollars.

The Abu Sayyaf is a small group of Islamic militants blamed for the nation’s worst terrorist attacks and a string of kidnappings.

Many of its senior leaders, including key suspects in the Sipadan kidnappings, have been killed or are now in jail.

US troops have been stationed in the southern Philippines since early 2002 to train local forces in how to combat the Abu Sayyaf.

But the group, believed to have just a few hundred militants, survives with the support of local Muslim communities and its ability to raise funds with kidnapping-for-ransom stings.

Police suspect the Abu Sayyaf was behind a bus bombing in Manila last week that claimed five lives.

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