MANILA, Philippines-Coordination among security agencies works, as shown by the arrest on Sunday of the leader of one of three groups of Moro rebels that ambushed Special Action Force (SAF) commandos on a counterterrorism mission in Mamasapano, Maguindano province, on Jan. 25.
Mohammad Tambako, alias "Ali," leader of the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM), and four of his men were traveling in a tricycle to the seaport in General Santos City, South Cotabato province, when they were intercepted by Army and police forces around 9 p.m. on Sunday.
Three grenades and two handguns were seized from the militants, who were too surprised to put up a fight, according to the military.
Policemen on the arresting team served Tambako a warrant of arrest issued by Cotabato City Regional Trial Court Judge George Jabido for the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attack on three villages in Midsayap town, North Cotabato province, on Sept. 23, 2013, during which he and his men beheaded a farmer, Ricardo Dionio, and seized 13 schoolteachers as hostages.
Arrested with Tambako were Datukan Sato Sabiwang, Ali Valley Ludisman, Mesharie Edio Gayak and Abushma Badrudin Guaimil, also known as Hansela Omar.
The tricycle driver, Ibrahim Manap Kapina, was initially arrested but was immediately released after investigation showed he was merely hired by Tambako and had no connection with the militants.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. announced the arrest of Tambako and his men at a news conference at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City on Monday.
Catapang said "excellent coordination" between the military and the police led to the arrest of Tambako and his men, who were flown to Manila and presented to reporters during the news conference at the air base.
The units that worked together for the arrest of Tambako were the Army's Intelligence and Security Group (ISG), Task Force Gensan, 6th Military Intelligence Battalion, 102nd Brigade, Military Intelligence Group 12 of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) and Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police.
"It's a great accomplishment because we were able to nip in the bud this alleged new group, a breakaway group from the BIFF," Catapang said.
"I think they are now history and they will have a hard time to recover, if ever," he said.
A military source involved in the operation to get Tambako said the authorities had help from informants in Maguindanao, one of whom was an Islamic preacher.
Help from MILF
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose fighters were involved in the Mamasapano clash, also provided information on Tambako's whereabouts.
The successful military-police operation to capture Tambako came seven weeks after the SAF operation in Mamasapano to capture international terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias "Marwan," and Amin Baco and their Filipino associate, Basit Usman.
The SAF did not coordinate the mission with the military, and the mission, although managing to kill Marwan (Usman and Baco escaped), ended with 44 commandos getting killed in a clash with Moro rebels who ambushed them as they withdrew from Mamasapano.
Catapang said Tambako had to be taken to Manila for inquest proceedings and for security, as Tambako was a "big terrorist leader."
He said the military was investigating to determine where Tambako and his men were headed when they were arrested.
Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año, commander of the Army's 10th Infantry Division and former Isafp chief, said Tambako and his men were traveling to the General Santos seaport to take a motorboat and head to a new hideout in a still unknown destination when they were intercepted by the authorities.
Fled from Mamasapano
Tambako fled Mamasapano three weeks ago after the military launched an offensive against the BIFF, which is believed to be sheltering Usman and Baco.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, head of the AFP Military-Public Affairs Office, said Tambako had studied in Egypt and his time overseas had enabled him to build up extensive contacts with foreign militants.
Tambako also studied in Libya and took elite force training in Pakistan, Cabunoc said.
The captured JIM leader is associated with Jemaah Islamiyah figures Marwan, Dulmatin and Umar Patek. Jemaah Islamiyah is the Southeast Asian affiliate of the global terrorist group al-Qaida.
Expelled from BIFF
The BIFF expelled Tambako in 2013 for the killing of Dionio, and he formed his own rebel band to oppose peace talks between the government and the MILF, the largest Moro rebel group in the south.
Tambako used to be the BIFF's leader for military affairs.
Abu Misri Mama, spokesman for the BIFF, confirmed that Tambako broke away from the group and formed his own band of militants.
The JIM, believed to have about a hundred fighters, has been linked to several deadly bombings and attacks, including the Jan. 25 clashes with SAF commandos in Mamasapano.
Ibrahim Malang, acting spokesman for the JIM, earlier confirmed that the group was involved in the Mamasapano clash.
Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief peace negotiator, earlier said Tambako was the leader of the JIM, which he described as a "third force" in the Mindanao conflict.