ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AFP) - Philippine forces on Wednesday arrested a Muslim extremist believed to have taken part in the kidnapping of 21 people from a Malaysian resort in 2000, a senior commander said.
Such cross-border kidnappings have become more common recently with militants from the lawless southern Philippines travelling to nearby Malaysia, where there are many dive resorts popular with foreign tourists.
Nabil Talahi Idjiran, a member of the Abu Sayyaf group who took part in one such raid on Malaysia's Sipadan island, was arrested in the southern Philippine port city of Zamboanga, said Colonel Andrelino Colina, head of a special anti-terror task force.
"He was one of the members of the group that kidnapped them (the 21 hostages)," Col Colina told AFP.
Idjiran also took turns guarding the hostages who were taken across the sea border to the remote Philippine island of Jolo, he added.
The kidnapping of the 21 mostly Western holiday-makers was one of the most brazen attacks by the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic extremist group founded in the 1990s with seed money from Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.
The hostages endured months of captivity in the jungles of Jolo, about 955 kilometres (515 miles) south of Manila, until they were ransomed off for millions of dollars.
Colina said Idjiran is also believed to have taken part in another attempt to raid a luxury resort in the southern Philippines in May 2001 that was foiled by its security staff.
The Abu Sayyaf, blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history, are also believed to be behind recent kidnappings of tourists from Malaysia.
In 2013, a Taiwanese tourist was killed and his wife abducted in one such raid. The widow later walked free.
A Chinese tourist and a Filipina resort worker were seized by suspected Abu Sayyaf members from a Malaysian resort earlier this month.
Col Colina said it is possible that the two latest hostages might also be hidden in the Jolo jungles. However he said it was unlikely Idjiran was involved in the latest abductions as military intelligence operatives had monitored him around Zamboanga City since last year.