Philippine security forces captured an Abu Sayyaf militant suspected of taking part in kidnapping nearly two dozen European, Malaysian and Filipino nationals together from a dive resort in eastern Malaysia 19 years ago, the military said Wednesday.
The suspect, Maldimar Mahmor, went with government forces peacefully after troops tracked him at his hideout in Zamboanga Sibugay province on Tuesday, Army Lt. Col. Don Templonuevo said.
“The arrest of Mahmor is a big loss for the Abu Sayyaf militants because it will disrupt their illegal activities, particularly kidnapping,” said Col. Bagnus Gaerlan Jr., commander of the army’s 102nd Infantry Brigade.
A standing arrest warrant was out against Mahmor in connection with the mass abductions, which took place at Sipadan island, a popular dive spot in the nearby Malaysian state of Sabah on April 23, 2000.
“Mahmor currently serves as the group’s liaison and facilitator in its kidnapping activities. He also took part in the Sipadan kidnapping in 2000,” said Templonuevo, commander of the 44th Infantry Battalion.
Troops recovered a .38-caliber revolver, a hand grenade, an M-16 magazine with ammunition and a rocket-propelled grenade ammunition from the suspect, officials said.
The Sipadan kidnapping thrust the then little-known Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) into the international spotlight because the audacity of the mass abduction caught Philippine and Malaysian authorities off guard.
The 21 hostages included three Germans, a French couple, two South Africans, two Finns, a Lebanese woman and 11 Malaysian and Filipino resort workers. The bandits took them by speedboat to the jungles of Jolo in the southern Philippines.
The hostages were freed over several months following reported payments of ransom in negotiations brokered by the Malaysians, officials said.
The Abu Sayyaf initially sought political concessions and said they were fighting for an independent Islamic state in the Philippine south, but then demanded huge ransoms.
Mahmor’s capture followed a series of arrests of former Abu Sayyaf militants last month.
In February, Abu Sayyaf sub leader Abdurahman Mataud Daiyung, who was involved in the abduction of rubber plantation workers in Basilan in 2001 and bomb attacks that killed seven people in Kidapawan city in 2012, was nabbed in Manila.
His associates, Harub Jaljalis Indal and Pinky Ani Hadjinulla, were captured days earlier in Zamboanga city in the south.
Founded in the early 1990s, Abu Sayyaf is notorious for carrying out kidnappings, bombings and beheadings in the southern Philippines over the past decade. The United States has blacklisted the group as a foreign terrorist organization.
ASG is the smallest, but considered the most brutal, of several armed groups that operate in the restive south. Three years ago, the Abu Sayyaf beheaded two Canadian hostages and a German captive after their governments refused to pay ransoms.
One of its leaders, Isnilon Hapilon, was later named the head of the Islamic State extremist group in the southern region. He was killed in October 2017 along with his aides, at the end of a five-month battle with government forces after leading militants in a siege of the southern city of Marawi.
Abu Sayyaf factions in other parts of the south have been blamed for violent acts, including a car bombing on Basilan island that left 11 people dead in July 2018.
Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato City, Philippines.