MANILA, Philippines (AP) — An alleged founder of an al-Qaida-linked Philippine militant group who is wanted by the U.S. government in the kidnapping of an American missionary 16 years ago was arrested in Manila on Wednesday, an official said.
Abdul Basir Latip was taken into custody after being transferred from Indonesia, where he was seized by police late last month on his way back to Manila from Syria following a tip from Interpol, said Ric Diaz, head of the Counter Terrorism Unit of the National Bureau of Investigation.
Latip has been charged in the United States with the 1993 kidnapping of linguist and Christian missionary Charles Walton by the Abu Sayyaf militant group on a southern Philippine island, Diaz said.
He said Latip helped found the Abu Sayyaf and was its finance officer, serving as a conduit for funds from supporters in Saudi Arabia through Muhamad Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. He was the spokesman for the kidnappers during Walton’s captivity, Diaz said.
Latip denied membership in the group to reporters but admitted he was a “close friend” of the Abu Sayyaf’s main founder, Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, who was killed in a gunbattle in 1998.
“If they use my friendship with Abdurajak Abubakar as a source, as a link, as a member of the Abu Sayyaf, it is totally wrong. I am not a member of the Abu Sayyaf,” he said.
The Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for kidnapping Walton on Pangutaran island near Jolo, their island stronghold. Walton was released after three weeks in captivity and returned to the United States, so Latip was never charged in the Philippines, Diaz said. The government said no ransom was paid.
Walton, who was then 60, had been doing linguistics research in the Philippines for 20 years. He was translating the Bible into the local Samal language for the Texas-based Summer Institute of Linguistics when he was kidnapped.
Latip was arrested Wednesday on charges of using a false name on his passport. He told reporters he was traveling under a fake name because he knew the U.S. had announced a reward for his arrest.
Diaz said the FBI filed a request for Latip’s arrest on Nov. 19, two days before he was nabbed in Indonesia.
He said Latip may be extradited to the United States if he faces no other charges in the Philippines.
The Abu Sayyaf is notorious for kidnappings, beheadings and bombings, including a roadside blast that killed two U.S. soldiers on Jolo in September.
The group is on Washington’s list of terror groups and has been the target of U.S.-backed military offensives in the southern Philippines.