ZAMBOANGA CITY, 21 May 2004 — Government soldiers stormed a hideout of the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and arrested a senior militant leader implicated in the kidnappings of two Belgian nationals and a British girl in the southern port city of Zamboanga, officials said.
Maj. Gen. Trifonio Salazar said soldiers arrested Usman Lidjal and an unidentified follower in the coastal village of Talon-Talon late Wednesday after civilian informants tipped off the military about their presence.
“Commander Usman Lidjal is finally arrested. There is now justice, to those who were victimized by this terrorist leader,” General Salazar told Arab News.
He said civilian informants privided his group with vital intelligence information that led to the capture of Lidjal. He said a third militant suspect had escaped the raid, but troops were sent to track him down in the village.
Salazar said Lidjal is facing a string of murder and kidnapping charges in Basilan island and in Zamboanga City.
Other reports said Lidjal was nabbed at a military checkpoint in the village after soldiers positively identified him. The military said Lidjal was a former leader of the separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) before he joined the Abu Sayyaf in the late 1990s.
His group also provided sanctuary to the group of Abu Sayyaf leader Khadaffy Janjalani soon after they kidnapped in Dos Palmas resort in Palawan island Kansas missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham and Californian Guillermo Sobero and other Filipino holiday-makers in 2001.
Military spokesman Col. Daniel Lucero said Lidjal masterminded the kidnappings of the Belgians agrarian expert Lieven dela Marche, 37, and journalist Erick Bracke, 39, who were seized at sea while on their way to an island resort called Sta. Cruz off Zamboanga City in June 1999.
Lidjal was also implicated in the kidnapping of the Eiman Grant, the six-year old stepdaughter of a Scottish man Douglas Grant in Basilan in January 2001. The three victims were freed after their families allegedly paid huge amount of ransom money.
Lucero also said Lidjal was behind many other kidnappings and killings in Basilan. “He is one of the most notorious terrorist that we had been hunting in the past in Basilan. His arrest would surely bring peace to all in the island,” he said.