PERUVIAN authorities announced yesterday they had captured Manuel Abimael Guzman, the shadowy leader of the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas who have waged a 12-year underground war against the state.
Mr. Guzman was detained Saturday night along with six other militants in a house in the capital's southern district of Surco, a spokesman for the National Counterterrorism Directorate said. Seven other leaders were captured in another house in a nearby area, police sources said.
Guzman - who has rarely been seen during the past a decade and is known by his nom de guerre "Presidente Gonzalo" - founded Sendero in 1970 as a splinter of the Communist Party. He has led it in a bloody war against Peru's government, and more than 26,000 people have died in political violence since the group took up arms in 1980. The government blames the group for more than $22 billion in economic damage.
Guzman was taken by surprise and no shots were fired, police sources said. They said Guzman, who had been nearly captured on two other occasions, was being held at the headquarters of the national police in central Lima.
A special group assigned to follow the movements of Shining Path militants for the past five months had been keeping watch on the house where Guzman was captured, police said. Anti-terrorist police had received information that a meeting of the group's central committee was planned in Lima for this weekend, they said.
Television showed dozens of police and patrol cars arriving at anti-terrorist police headquarters. Reporters and photographers were kept away from the building where Guzman was being held.
ENRIQUE ZILERI, editor of the magazine Caretas, said the arrest of Guzman was a huge blow to Shining Path.
"He is very, very important. This is Mao Zedong himself," Mr. Zileri said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation. He said Sendero's ideology had been wholly constructed by the former philosophy professor, who during the 12-year war had become a shadowy figure, rarely photographed or interviewed.
Zileri said the guerrilla movement's most important ideological source had been the "Red Book" written by Guzman, modeled on the Chinese leader's ubiquitous volume.
He said Guzman had not been presented to reporters but that based on information obtained from the anti-terrorist directorate, the report of the arrest "really sounds genuine."
Sendero Luminoso, which began its attacks in the countryside and moved into Peru's coastal cities, has flourished in the Andean regions, in the eastern jungles of Peru, and recently has been active in the capital's poorest neighborhoods.
Sendero guerrillas have detonated around 20 car bombs this year, killing more than 60 people. They have stepped up the attacks since President Alberto Fujimori suspended constitutional rule on April 5.
Guzms capture comes less than three months after the arrest of Victor Polay, leader of Peru's other guerrilla insurgency, the Cuban-inspired Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.
President Fujimori was expected to address the nation yesterday to talk about Guzms capture.