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Spanish ‘militant sympathiser’ arrested in Philippines

Troops in the southern Philippines have arrested a Spanish man carrying grenades and bomb-making equipment and suspected of supporting a notorious militant group, authorities said Wednesday.

Abdelhakim Labidi Adib, 20, who described himself as a tourist, was detained Monday at an army checkpoint on Basilan island, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group, they said.

The army said Labidi Adib, a Spanish citizen of Tunisian descent, was with a suspected Filipino member of the Abu Sayyaf who escaped.

“Labidi Adib is a known Abu Sayyaf sympathiser and ardent supporter of the establishment of (an) Islamic caliphate here in the Philippines,” Captain Exequel Panti, special forces commanding officer in Basilan, said in a sworn statement.

“He was arrested. He threw (away) his bag containing explosives while his companion jumped from a cliff,” Panti told reporters on Wednesday after flying the suspect to the justice ministry in Manila.

The Spaniard denied the military’s account.

Abu Sayyaf is infamous for kidnapping both locals and foreigners, and demanding ransoms of up to millions of dollars for their release.

Basilan has long been a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, which was founded in the 1990s with the help of Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden.

Militants loyal to the Islamic State group, including Abu Sayyaf members, attacked the southern city of Marawi in May last year in what authorities said was part of a campaign to establish a Southeast Asian caliphate for IS.

The Marawi siege lasted for five months and left more than 1,100 people dead and half the city in ruins.

Authorities said Labidi Adib arrived in the Philippines in October 2017, about the time the Marawi siege ended.

He had previously travelled to Morocco and Tunisia, said senior state prosecutor Peter Ong, citing information on his passport.

Labidi Adib, who on Wednesday sported a jacket and shaved head, told state prosecutors he was in the Philippines on vacation and had come from “the jungle” of Basilan before his arrest.

But he repeatedly refused to answer questions about what he was doing in an island avoided by tourists over the kidnapping threat.

Prosecutors said they were studying whether to charge him in court.