Khair Mundos Image Credit: AFP

Manila: A senior Philippine militant on the US government’s “most wanted” list was arrested in Manila on Wednesday after a seven-year manhunt, authorities said.

Khair Mundos, who had a $500,000 (Dh1.8 million) US government bounty on his head, was detained at 9.30am (0130 GMT) close to the capital’s airport where he was staying with relatives, the police and military said after a joint raid.

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

Mundos was arrested at his hideout in San Dioniso village, Paranaque City, Elizabeth Jasmin, spokesman for the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG), said.

“One of the most wanted terrorists in the world, his arrest will greatly affect the Abu Sayyaf Group’s operation in terms of financial sourcing, as well as establishing linkages with other foreign extremist groups that help in the training of ASG members in Mindanao (southern Philippines),” said PNP spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) assisted the PNP in securing Mundos, said Zagala, adding, “This will prevent any untoward incident (while Mundos is being held by the police).”

Identifying Mundos as ASG’s key leader and financier, the United States’ State Department earlier offered a $500,000 bounty for him.

The Philippine police confirmed that Mundos was ASG’s top commander with easy access to almost all key Al Qaida groups in the Middle East.

Mundos was allegedly responsible for single-handedly funnelling $89,000 to the ASG for logistics needed for kidnap-for ransom, beheadings, bombings, and other terror attacks in the Philippines.

ASG’s kidnap-for-ransom activities often targeted foreigners and Christian missionaries, police said.

Mundos was pinpointed as the one who sourced funds for the ASG’s bomb attack that killed an American soldier who was engaged in anti-terror training in Malagutay district in Zamboanga City, southern Philippines in October 2002.

Mundos’ funding prowess reportedly helped ASG’s bomb attacks in two department stores in Zamboanga City that killed seven people in October 2002; and in one bomb attack that targeted a bus terminal in Kidapawan City, Cotabato which killed seven, also in 2002.

Mundos was also blamed for sourcing funds for ASG’s bomb attack of a passenger bus that killed two passengers in Balintawak , Quezon City (Metro Manila) on October 18, 2002.

Mundos was the alleged bagman for logistics needed by the ASG in kidnapping 21 mostly foreign tourists from Sipadan Island, a Malaysian resort, in 2000.

On May 15, 2004, a combined operation of the PNP and the defence department’s Anti Terror Task Force resulted in Mundos’ arrest in Zamboanga City, southern Philippines.

Praising the arrest as a breakthrough in the government’s anti-terror campaign, former President Gloria Arroyo predicted then it could finally “cripple the Abu Sayyaf and its transnational tentacles within the JI and Al Qaida”. But Mundos escaped from jail in 2007.

The ASG has active links with Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian conduit of the Al Qaida.

The ASG was established in the south in the 1990s, with seed money provided by non-government organisations that were established by Bin Laden’s brother-in-law who stayed in the southern Philippines.

— With inputs from AFP