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Philippine Police Arrest Suspected Abu Sayyaf Leader - 2002-11-14

Philippine authorities say they have arrested the suspected mastermind of a recent series of deadly bombings in the south.

Police arrested Abdulmukim Edris outside a military camp Tuesday. He is allegedly the leader of the explosives team of the Abu Sayyaf - a Muslim extremist group that Washington links to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Mr. Edris is from the southern Philippine province of Basilan.

On Thursday, Mr. Edris was presented to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the media after admitting to masterminding a series of explosions in the southern city of Zamboanga. The bombings killed at least seven people and injured dozens more.

In addition to the Zamboanga attacks, officials say Mr. Edris and his group also planned to detonate a truck bomb and attack government installations, foreign embassies and shopping malls in the capital, Manila.

Five other suspected Abu Sayyaf bombers were captured last month.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Benjamin Defensor says Mr. Edris received training in explosives last year from two visiting Yemeni nationals. Those men are suspected of being tied to the al-Qaida terrorist organization.

"We are not directly linking him to al-Qaida but we believe there is some link somewhere," he said. "They work as a big group."

Mr. Edris is also said to be have been involved in the kidnapping of more than 20 local and foreign tourists from a beach resort in May 2001. The Abu Sayyaf later killed two Americans and a number of Philippine captives.

The Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting for a separate Muslim state in the southern Philippines. However, it gained international notoriety for its kidnappings and violent executions.

U.S. troops helped train Philippine soldiers to fight the Abu Sayyaf in a six-month anti-terrorism exercise that ended in July.