Philippine security forces have arrested eight suspected Muslim extremists, including a man with a history of terrorist attacks who now leads a group of converts to Islam.
Military officials say they captured Ahmad Santos and the others in a raid on a house in Zamboanga, one of the largest cities on southern Mindanao island. They also seized weapons, explosives and maps of Manila.
Authorities say Mr. Santos headed the Rajah Solaiman Movement, or RSM, made up mostly of former Christians who converted to Islam. Military officials say RSM has joined forces with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist organization, which is blamed for bombing and sinking a ferry near Manila last year - an attack that killed more than 100 people.
Lieutenant General Edilberto Adan, chief of the Philippine military's Southern Command, says Mr. Santos has a long history.
"We've captured Ahmad Santos, who used to be a Filipino worker in the Middle East in the early '90s, and who converted to Islam. He was recruited by the radical faction in the Middle East and went back to the Philippines and joined the radical movement of the Abu Sayyaf," said General Adan. "Since then, he has been involved in organizing and planning terrorist activities, including the preparation of bombs. And in 2003, our government security forces ... raided a house in Quezon city wherein 600 kilos of explosive material - TNT, to be exact - was recovered. And Ahmad Santos was identified to be behind it."
Lieutenant General Adan says this is a major victory in the war on terror in the Philippines, and could lead to other breakthroughs.
"This is a very important development because we were able to neutralize a known bombing operations planner, as well as a conduit for funds by the terrorist groups in funding other terrorist activities," he added. "We were able to recover two computers that we presume will be loaded with a lot of vital information."
Security officials have been concerned about the rise of RSM and other groups of Muslim converts. They say this could expand the power of Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah, which is linked to al-Qaida. Mr. Santos, who is also known as Hilarion del Rosario, is believed to have received bomb training in the southern Philippines from Jemaah Islamiyah.
The United States over the years has provided military aid and training to help the Philippines government in its fight against rebel groups.