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September 22, 2017

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Filipino militant on US 'most wanted' list arrested

MANILA -- A Philippine Islamic militant on the U.S. government's "most wanted" list was arrested in a Manila slum on Wednesday, authorities said, seven years after he spectacularly broke out of jail.

Khair Mundos, who had a US$500,000 U.S. government reward on his head, was detained in a rundown Muslim quarter near the capital's airport where he was staying with relatives, the police and military said after a joint raid.

The U.S. State Department's "Rewards for Justice" website describes him as a "key leader and financier" of the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic militant group blamed for the worst extremist attacks in the Philippines.

The group, founded with seed money from al-Qaida, is believed to have only a few hundred militants but has successfully carried out deadly bomb attacks and kidnappings, often targeting foreigners and Christians.

Mundos had been captured in 2004 in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, a largely lawless area roughly 1,000 kilometers from Manila where the Abu Sayyaf is based.

He was arrested "on the first-ever money laundering charges against terrorists," according to the "Rewards for Justice" website.

It said Mundos confessed in custody to having arranged the transfer of al-Qaida funds to the Abu Sayyaf's top leader for bombings and other criminal acts throughout Mindanao.

He was also charged in the Philippines with multiple counts of murder.

However Mundos was among dozens of militants who escaped from Kidapawan City prison in Mindanao in February 2007.

Muslim insurgents using grenade launchers blasted their way into the jail before dawn, then pinned down a handful of guards with rifle fire while Mundos and the others fled.

'Too hot' in the South

Manila's criminal investigation chief, Senior Superintendent Roberto Fajardo, said on Tuesday Mundos had moved to the capital to avoid pursuit in the south, but he would not disclose how long the militant had been hiding in the city.

"It was getting too hot (in the south) so he came here while waiting for things to cool down," Fajardo told reporters.

Mundos did not resist arrest, according to another senior police officer involved who asked not to be named. Photos released by police after Mundos's arrest showed him clean shaven and muscular.

The head of military intelligence, Major General Eduardo Ano, said Mundos's capture was a major blow for the Abu Sayyaf, which has proved an enduring threat despite its relatively low numbers and a U.S.-military supported offensive.

"Those people lost one of their leaders ... and they will be feeling insecure," Ano told reporters.

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