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Arrest Made in Philippines Bombing

May 23, 2002

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ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) _ Police captured a Muslim guerrilla leader suspected of masterminding recent deadly bombings in what authorities said was a major blow to the al-Qaida-linked group, officials said Thursday.

Nearly 50 police and military intelligence agents arrested Noor Mohammad Umog, who allegedly heads a special operations unit of the Abu Sayyaf rebels, as he emerged from a restaurant Wednesday in southern Cotabato city, police senior superintendent Bartolome Baluyot said. Abu Sayyaf has been holding two American missionaries hostage for nearly a year.

Police are preparing to charge Umog with murder for three bomb attacks that killed 15 people and wounded nearly 100 outside a shopping mall in the southern port city of General Santos on April 21, Baluyot said.

At the time of his arrest, he also had 50 warrants out against him for kidnappings in southern Jolo and Basilan, the island base of the Abu Sayyaf, Baluyot said.

``This guy is involved in bombings, many kidnappings, extortion _ and his arrest is a major blow to his group,″ Baluyot said.

Police suspect Umog was the person who called a local radio station to claim responsibility for the General Santos bombings on behalf of Al Harakatul Islamiya, Abu Sayyaf’s formal name, Bartolome said.

Umog, a former public school teacher from Basilan, was identified by five suspected Abu Sayyaf guerrillas separately arrested in Cotabato and General Santos, Baluyot said. They said Umog is the right hand man of Khadafy Janjalani, the head of the rebels who have been holding missionaries Gracia and Martin Burnham of Wichita, Kan., in Basilan’s jungles or surrounding areas.

A massive military offensive that began last year has reduced Abu Sayyaf from more than 1,000 armed men in Basilan to fewer than 100. The U.S. military is providing training and weapons to Philippine troops to finish off rebel holdouts in Basilan, a predominantly Muslim province of more than 300,000 people, and help rescue the Burnhams, kidnapped from an island resort on May 27 last year.

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