MANILA, Philippines – A traditional leader in Sulu has been in touch with the military for the possible surrender of Abu Sayyaf top leader Radullon Sahiron, a development that if successful could deal a blow to the group that has terrorized the country for decades.
Sahiron is on the US list of most wanted terrorists, indicted in a court there in 2007 for his involvement in the kidnapping of US citizens. The US offered a $1-million (P49.5-million) bounty for his capture.
Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu (JTF Sulu), said they are taking seriously the information, which came from a person known to be Sahiron's friend.
"It may be serious considering that the Abu Sayyaf Group is now away from their comfort zones, on the run and disorganized as a result of JTF Sulu's relentless and sustained focused military operations," Sobejana told Rappler on Tuesday, April 18.
Sahiron is estimated to be 74 years old. He is believed to be tired and weary of always moving from one place to another to escape the military, which has been working hard to meet a self-imposed deadline to crush the Abu Sayyaf by June 30.
The group that was founded in 1991 by former members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has survived repeated changes in leadership in the past. Sahiron became its overall leader in 2005 after Khadaffy Janjalani was killed by the military in Sulu.
The Abu Sayyaf is a highly factionalized group, divided into cells that mostly act on their own and thrive on ransom from kidnap victims.
Still, Sobejana said Sahiron's surrender would likely prompt more leaders and members to follow suit. It could be the tipping point.
"Others may follow... We hope that long and lasting peace will prevail in Sulu," he said.
The military recently celebrated the surrender of a batch of 11 men from Tawi-Tawi where kidnappers venturing to nearby Sabah are known to take refuge.
Sahiron rejects ISIS
How a Sahiron surrender could impact the group led by Isnilon Hapilon, the faction that has pledged allegiance to the international terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS), may be another matter.
A Jakarta-based think tank divides the Abu Sayyaf into two general factions. The group led by Sahiron rejects ISIS and is mainly preoccupied with kidnapping activities. The other group led by Hapilon has more ambitious plans to play a role internationally.
"The ASG groups involved in the high-profile kidnappings for ransom in 2016 belong or feed into Jolo-based subcommands that do not see themselves as part of ISIS. They have a loose allegiance to Radullon Sahiron, a native of Patikul, Sulu, rather than Isnilon. Their use of ISIS may be a way of upping the ransom demands or simply attracting attention; their resort to beheadings is punishment for failure to pay by the appointed deadline, not for any religious or ideological transgression," said the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in the report "Pro-ISIS Groups in Mindanao and Their Links to Indonesia and Malaysia."
But Hapilon has not resurfaced since he was believed to be heavily injured in a military strike in Lanao del Sur in January. It is not known if he is still alive. (READ: Duterte hopeful top Abu Sayyaf leader dead after serious injury)
Hapilon reportedly traveled to Central Mindanao from his base in Basilan in Southern Mindanao to link up with another ISIS-linked terror organization, the Maute Group, to implement instructions to look for a suitable area for a caliphate in Mindanao. (READ: 4 PH terror groups link up with pro-ISIS fighters in region)
The leader of another Abu Sayyaf faction that may have links to ISIS, the daring Muamar Askali or Abu Rami, was killed in Bohol last April 11. – Rappler.com
P49.50 = $1