Manila, Philippines — Police arrested two suspected Muslim extremists in a raid on a hide-out near the southern island where the rebels have about 20 hostages, officials said Wednesday.
Police Col. Damming Unga said his men arrested the two described as "sub-leaders" of the Abu Sayyaf late Tuesday after receiving tips from civilians in the predominantly Muslim village of Baliwasan Chico near Basilan island.
The two men were suspected of taking part in the alleged solicitation of ransom payments from families of hostages and were undergoing interrogation early Wednesday, Unga said.
He refused to name them but said they were permanently based on Basilan and likely worked with Abu Sabaya, whose Abu Sayyaf faction is suspected responsible for the kidnappings.
He said the two men tried to escape the raid but were overpowered.
The arrests follow the capture Sunday of Nadzmie Sabtulah, known as Commander Global, who officials accuse of planning the kidnapping of 20 people, including three Americans, from an island resort more than six weeks ago.
Sabtulah's arrest Sunday night was considered the most serious single blow yet to the 1,100-member Abu Sayyaf, which fended off a major military assault last year and is dodging at least 5,000 troops on Basilan.
Also Wednesday, troops hunting the Abu Sayyaf on Basilan clashed with members of the Moro National Liberation Front, a guerrilla group that signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996, according to MNLF officials.
MNLF spokesman Abdurhaman Jamasali said two former guerillas were killed and four seriously wounded when the army attacked an MNLF camp in the jungle village of Matikang before dawn.
The MNLF, which has kept its camps but has frequently helped the army since signing the peace deal, has condemned the Abu Sayyaf kidnapping.
Army spokesman Maj. Alberto Gepilano said soldiers were pursuing Abu Sayyaf into MNLF territory when the fighting began.
"The troops were running after the terrorists in the area. Our soldiers were attacked by gunmen, and this triggered the fighting," he said.
Soldiers clashed several times last month with MNLF fighters while hunting Abu Sayyaf members.
The Abu Sayyaf raided the Dos Palmas beach resort, off the southwestern island of Palawan, on May 27 in the group's second major hostage taking in a year.
It was not immediately clear if the two suspects arrested Tuesday were among the captors of missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham, of Wichita. The Burnhams are thought to be in the jungles of Basilan, about 560 miles south of Manila.
Sabaya has said he beheaded a third American, Guillermo Sobero of Corona, Calif., but his body has not been found.
Other hostages have escaped or been freed, reportedly for ransoms paid by their families.
The Abu Sayyaf has replaced those hostages through kidnapping raids on a hospital and a coconut plantation on Basilan.