MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Philippine troops arrested a suspected Muslim militant accused in the high-profile kidnappings of three Americans, two of whom were later killed, and dozens of Filipinos nine years ago, the military reported Friday.
It said Jumadali Arad was captured at Manila harbor Thursday as he was about to board a ship bound for the southern Philippines, where the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group has planted bombs and carried out kidnappings despite U.S.-backed military offensives against the militants.
Two soldiers were killed and one wounded on southern Basilan Island on Friday when they tripped the wire on a homemade bomb during an operation to track down militants, said regional commander Rear Adm. Alex Pama.
They are believed to be holding two Chinese workers snatched from a plywood factory last year, Pama said. A third hostage, a Filipino, was beheaded a month after the November abductions.
Arad had been in hiding since 2001, when Abu Sayyaf abducted three American and 17 Filipino tourists from the Dos Palmas resort in southwestern Palawan province at the start of a yearlong kidnapping spree, said marine commandant Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban.
American missionary Gracia Burnham survived the jungle captivity, but husband Martin was killed in the military rescue in 2002. The third American, Guillermo Sobero, was beheaded by the militants on Basilan.
Arad, who allegedly drove a speedboat loaded with the hostages during the kidnappings, was reportedly on a mission to buy ammunition for Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon when he was arrested Thursday, the military said in a statement. Hapilon has been indicted in the U.S. on kidnapping and murder charges, and Washington offered a $5 million reward for his capture.
The kidnappings and violence prompted Washington to deploy hundreds of troops to the southern Mindanao region, where they have been training Philippine forces and sharing intelligence. U.S. military personnel are not allowed to engage in combat in the Philippines.
Although the government claims to have crippled Abu Sayyaf after several offensives, the group still poses a major threat. It held three Red Cross workers and several others hostage last year, attacked troops and blew up bridges. A roadside bomb in September killed two U.S. soldiers.
The militants, however, have remained without a central leader following the killings of its top commanders and have split into at least five factions, police said.
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