Philippines pays reward in militant’s arrest

Police escort Hajer Sailani at the Philippine National Police headquarters on September 1, 2009
Police in the Philippines have paid an informant in the arrest of a militant tied to the kidnapping of four Americans and dozens of Filipinos.

Hajer Adjuan Sailani, who also goes by the name Abu Ajair, was captured last week in a mall in Cotabato City, the Philippine National Police said Tuesday. Authorities say Ajair is a member of Abu Sayyaf, a group that the U.S. State Department has designated as a terrorist organization linked to al Qaeda. The informant received $7,100 (350,000 Philippine pesos) as a reward on Tuesday. Sailani has been linked to the August 2000 kidnapping of Jeffery Schilling, an American living in southern Philippines. He was held captive for seven months before he escaped in April 2001. Before he fled, his kidnappers had demanded a $10 million ransom and the release of certain U.S. prisoners. Authorities said Sailani was also involved in the kidnapping of three Americans and 17 Filipinos from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan in May 2001.

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One American, a California native named Guillermo Sobero, was later found beheaded near the Abu Sayyaf’s jungle lair in Basilan province. A second American, Martin Burnham of Kansas, was killed during a rescue operation. His wife, Gracia, was shot in the leg and survived. They were a missionary couple. Filipino nurse Deborah Yap was also killed in the clash between Filipino troops and Abu Sayyaf militants. The other 16 Filipinos were later released. Authorities on Tuesday said Sailani was also involved in the mass kidnappings of teachers, students and priests in Basilan in March 2000. Most were later released, but at least two teachers were beheaded. Abu Sayyaf is one of several Islamic militant groups fighting the Philippine government. The group operates largely in Basilan, according to the U.S. State Department, and wants to establish a separate state for the country’s minority Muslim population. The government has been fighting to contain the group, which is blamed for several terrorist attacks in the Philippines, including the bombing of a ferry in 2004 that left about 130 people dead. This year, Abu Sayyaf has been implicated in the kidnappings of several Red Cross workers and journalists.