MANILA, Philippines — Philippine troops have captured the leader of a Muslim rebel group who has been linked to bombings and a beheading and accused of protecting two terror suspects wanted by the United States, officials said Monday.
Army and police forces arrested Mohammad Ali Tambako and five of his companions late Sunday while the militants were traveling in a motorcycle sidecar taxi to a seaport in southern General Santos city. Three grenades and two guns were seized from the militants, one of whom was later freed after investigators ascertained he was just hired as a driver by the group, military spokesman Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.
Military chief of staff Gregorio Pio Catapang told a news conference that Tambako’s capture could put his new group out of existence.
“I think they are now history,” Catapang said at Manila’s Villamor Air Base, where an air force plane transported Tambako and his men in handcuffs.
Catapang said Tambako posed a danger because he has traveled to Libya, Pakistan and Egypt and “had established a network of contacts among the notorious Islamic fundamentalists around the world” before returning to take part in the Muslim insurrection the southern Philippines.
Tambako, who formed the group Justice for Islamic Movement with about 70 armed fighters last year, has been suspected by the military of giving refuge in his southern stronghold to top Malaysian terror suspect Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and long-wanted Filipino bombing suspect Abdul Basit Usman.