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Philippine Terror Leaders Captured

Police said Friday they have arrested two senior officials of the Abu Sayyaf, the al Qaeda-linked extremist group that the Philippine military is trying to destroy with American help.

The arrests reflect continued attrition by the Abu Sayyaf, which has been holding a U.S. missionary couple and a Filipino nurse for 11 months. Battlefield losses, arrests and surrenders have cut the group's strength to only a few dozen fighters on Basilan island, according to Philippine military estimates.

Satar Yacub, described as the No. 4 leader of the group on Basilan, was taken into custody Friday afternoon in a house outside the southern city of Zamboanga. With leg and shoulder injuries, he was believed to have escaped from an Abu Sayyaf boat that came under fire Monday and swam an hour to shore. Eight guerrillas were killed in that attack.

On Thursday night, police arrested Salip Abdullah, a key aide of Abu Sayyaf chief Khadafy Janjalani, said senior Supt. Bartolome Baluyot, the regional police chief. The arrest happened near the southern city of General Santos, where 15 people were killed in a trio of bombings on April 21.

Baluyot said Abdullah faces 61 counts for kidnappings and others for murder on Basilan. The accusations include the abduction and killing of a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Roel Gallardo, two years ago.

Police in Manila said the government had offered a reward of $3,000 for information leading to Abdullah's capture. It wasn't immediately clear if anyone qualified for the money.

Baluyot did not say whether Abdullah is accused of participating in a deadly trio of bombings on April 21 in General Santos, 620 miles southeast of Manila, that killed 15 and injured 71. But he said "they are the terrorists orchestrating these bombings."

A caller to a radio station claimed responsibility for the bombings in Abu Sayyaf's name.

Police said two suspects, who were arrested a day later, claimed more attacks were planned around the country to destabilize the government. Three other suspects were arrested with two bombs and bomb-making materials.

Baluyot said Abu Sayyaf leaders are seeking refuge in General Santos and elsewhere to escape a joint Philippine-U.S. counterterrorism exercise on Basilan, about 190 miles west of the city.

About 1,000 U.S. troops are in the southern Philippines to train Filipino soldiers to better fight the Abu Sayyaf and improve infrastructure on Basilan island, the base for 60 to 80 guerrillas.

The Abu Sayyaf has been holding Wichita, Kan. missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap hostage on Basilan for nearly a year.

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