Philippine security forces arrested the leader of a small but violent rebel faction in the southern Philippines, the army chief said on Monday.
The government of the largely Christian country has been battling Muslim rebels for decades and while a peace process with the biggest faction has led to a decrease in violence, clashes with smaller factions and bomb attacks are common.
The Philippine army flew Mohammad Ali Tambako, founder and leader of the Justice Islamic Movement, along with five associates to the Philippine Airbase in Manila for questioning.
Authorities said Tambako was arrested when their group, armed with guns and grenades, was on their way to a sea port in General Santos on the island of Mindanao.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Gregorio Catapang said that the arrest was a big achievement in maintaining peace in the south.
“This alleged new group, the breakaway from the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) as I've already stated, that all of the breakaway group of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), we will consider them, ask them to be declared as terrorist organization, so this is a big help and this only shows that the government is firm in its determination to put a stop on terrorism, to bring development and peace in Mindanao,” he said.
Tambako had studied in Egypt and his time overseas had enabled him to build up extensive contacts with foreign militants, the Philippine army said.
Tambako opposes peace talks with the government and his group was believed to have sheltered a wanted bomber, Abdul Basit Usman.
Usman was one of two militants police were hunting on Jan. 25 when they were ambushed by rebels of the main Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and 44 policemen and 18 rebels were killed.
That clash has thrown into doubt a peace process with the MILF, the country's biggest rebel group, and led to criticism of President Benigno Aquino and calls for him to step down.
The army launched an offensive against Tambako's faction on the southern island of Mindanao last month and more than 80,000 people had been displaced by the fighting.