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Philippines: Senior Abu Sayyaf Leader Captured - 2003-12-08


The Philippine military says it has captured a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf kidnap gang with links to international terrorist networks.

The Philippine Armed Forces say they captured Galib Andang, better known as Commander Robot, during a firefight Sunday night with Abu Sayyaf rebels on Jolo Island - one thousand kilometers south of Manila.

Spokesman Leiutenant Colonel Daniel Lucero says three-months of intelligence work led to a tip that helped security forces pinpoint the location of Commander Robot. "He was with a much bigger group," he says. "And Commander Robot sustained a number of wounds and he was left behind by his comrades, which led us to capture him."

The spokesman says the fugitive was wounded in the lower legs and underwent a blood transfusion before being flown to Manila Monday.

Since the 1990s, the Abu Sayyaf group has terrorized parts of the southern Philippines through a series of kidnappings-for-ransom. It beheaded dozens of victims when their families failed to buy their release.

Military officials say Commander Robot was involved in the kidnapping three-and-a-half years ago of 21 foreign tourists and Philippine workers at a resort in Sipadan, Malaysia. These hostages were released several months later after mediation by Libya in which millions of dollars were reportedly paid.

The captured leader has also been linked to the abduction and murder of several Indonesian crew members on a Singaporean tug and several missionaries of the Jehovah's Witnesses religious group.

Abu Sayyaf was also responsible for the abduction of two American missionaries and a Philippine nurse on Basilan Island that ended in a gunfight last year in which two of the three hostages were killed.

But spokesman Mr. Lucero says Philippine authorities are interested in reported links between Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah - the terror network responsible for a string of bomb attacks in the Philippines and on Indonesia's Bali Island.

"Commander Robot, when he was still Scot-free, accepted the fact that they've got links with JI, Jemaah Islamiyah, and we're hoping he will provide us more information once we start conducting our interrogation," he says. "And hopefully this information will be able to lead us to the presence of some JI members in Mindanao."

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo Monday praised the capture of Commander Robot, calling it another heavy blow to the Abu Sayyaf and pledged to keep it up until all terrorists no longer pose a threat.

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