KOTA KINABALU - A notorious gang leader, believed to be one of the masterminds behind several cross-border kidnappings with links to the Abu Sayyaf terror group, has been arrested in southern Philippines.
The man, identified as Apo Kahumbo who operated from the Tawi Tawi chain of islands, has been wanted by both the Philippine and Malaysian police for many years.
He and his group of gunmen are also linked to another notorious gang of kidnappers headed by the Muktadil brothers, who have been identified by Malaysian police as being responsible for several recent abductions in Sabah.
Philippine National Police Tawi Tawi chief Col Joey Salido told The Star that Kahumbo was detained early yesterday in a joint operation involving several security agencies at one of the Tawi Tawi islands, less than a half-hour boat ride from Sabah's east coast.
Security officials, said Col Salido, were now verifying the man's background information, including his origin, age and the gunmen in his group.
Kahumbo, he said, was being held by the Philippine security forces at the Tawi Tawi provincial capital of Bongao.
However, he declined to say how and exactly where Kahumbo was detained, other than that "this individual is wanted for questioning and was invited to talk to us".
"We are also looking to verify whether or not he is responsible for a number of kidnappings in the Philippines and Sabah," he said, adding that Kahumbo would be charged in court if there was sufficient evidence.
According to Malaysian intelligence sources, Kahumbo was also known as Mubin Halil.
The sources said Kahumbo might also have been responsible for the latest Pulau Mabul attack, during which Filipino gunmen fatally shot Marine Police Kpl Abdul Rajah Jamuan, 32, and kidnapped his colleague Kons Zakiah Aleip, 26, from the Mabul Water Bungalows Resort on July 12.
According to the sources, Kahumbo had been one of the masterminds responsible for several kidnappings in Semporna, Lahad Datu and Kunak since early this year.
Philippine intelligence sources based in Zamboanga City said Kahumbo was an Abu Sayyaf member based in Tawi Tawi where kidnap victims were usually taken to before being brought to the Abu Sayyaf lair on Jolo island.
They believed Kahumbo commanded a gang of eight gunmen, identified only as Amilbangsa, Roslam, Tamsi, Seahorse, Abrasar, Adunay, Nikson and Darwin.
"Kahumbo's group is clan based. Most of the members are his relatives," said a source.
Intelligence sources also believed the Kahumbo gang and the Muktadil brothers with another group known as Anjang-Anjang were collaborating and supporting each other in the cross-border kidnappings.
Malaysian police recently released photographs of two members of the Muktadil brothers group who are wanted for kidnappings in Sabah.
According to the sources, the Muktadil brothers were led by Badong, who is a protégé of Kahumbo.