Manila – In what has been described as a "big catch", the leader of an Islamic convert group linked to past terror attacks in the Philippines was arrested in the southern Zamboanga City after on Oct 25. The authorities believe that they have succeeded in thwarting bombing plots by the radical Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) with the arrest of its leader, Hilarion del Rosario Santos.
Santos, along with eight of his men, were captured during a raid by security forces at a "safe house" in San Jose village. They were sleeping when the raid occurred. According to a senior police officer, Santos was arrested based on a warrant of arrest for illegal possession of firearm and explosives.
Weapons and other materials seized during the raid included 49 rounds of ammunition for 57-mm recoilless rifle, six blasting caps, three magazines and three bolts for an M16 rifle, computers, electrical tools and backpacks.
The RSM was uncovered in May 2002 after security officials raided an Islamic school (madrasah) run by Santos, who goes by the Muslim name of Ahmad Islam Santos. The group comprises mostly Christians from the main northern Luzon island who have converted to Islam. It is also believed to have forged an alliance with the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiah.
According to a police intelligence source, Santos is the liaison of Mohammad Al-Kalifah, the brother-in-law of Al-Qaeda's chief, Osama bin Laden.
Santos has been linked to several bombings in the country, including the Rizal Day bombings in Metro Manila in 2000, and this year's Valentine's Day terrorist attacks in three cities.
"This is definitely a big catch," Lt-Gen Edilberto Adan, commander of the military's Southern Command, told the Associated Press.
The Philippine authorities have been concerned about the emergence of groups comprising Muslim converts, such as the RSM. They worry that these groups could expand the reach and bolster the strength of the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiah, both of whom have been hurt by arrests and battled setbacks dealt by US-backed military offensives in the southern Philippines in recent years.
* Terrorist leader, 8 others nabbed in Zamboanga City (Inquirer News Service, Oct 26)