MANILA (AFP) – Philippine security forces have arrested a Muslim rebel linked to a 2009 roadside bombing that killed two US soldiers on the volatile southern island of Jolo, a police official said Monday.
Mihaji Hamjuda, also known as Mahang, was arrested in a joint operation by police and military intelligence on Sunday, said Benjamin Magalong, chief of the national police’s criminal investigation and detection group.
“Mahang was involved in the 2009 bombing that killed three military men, including two US servicemen,” Magalong said.
Jolo is a known stronghold of Al Qaeda-linked Islamic militants specializing in bombings and kidnapping for ransom.
Mahang is described as a “bomb expert” and had been wanted by police, Magalong said.
He said troops had swooped on Mahang’s hideout in Jolo’s remote Indanan town.
The slain US servicemen were among hundreds of American troops rotating in the south to help the Philippine government’s fight against Islamic militants.
They were on a military vehicle that rolled over the roadside bomb, which Mahang helped to manufacture, Magalong said.
Magalong said Mahang belonged to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a rebel group that is the forerunner of the smaller Abu Sayyaf.
The Abu Sayyaf, consisting of several hundred armed members, are believed holding several foreign hostages on Jolo, including two European bird-watchers and a Japanese citizen taken captive in separate incidents over recent years.
The militants recently freed a Chinese woman and a Filipino resort worker seized from a Malaysian dive resort in April.
Thousands of US soldiers have served in the southern Philippines since 2001, helping Filipino forces to cut down the Abu Sayyaf’s strength from about 1,000 fighters to roughly 300 at present.
Manila and Washington signed a deal in April allowing a greater US military presence in the Philippines over the next decade.