14 Abu Sayyaf men yield in Sulu

ZAMBOANGA CITY: The Philippine military said 14 Abu Sayyaf terrorists surrendered in the southern province of Sulu with security officials promising them aid despite the group’s violent campaign in the restive region.

Military photo shows the surrendered Abu Sayyaf terrorists. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Brig. Gen. Antonio Bautista, commander of the 1101st Infantry Brigade, said the terrorists also yielded assorted weapons, mostly old firearms, on March 8 during a ceremony witnessed by senior commanders at the army headquarters in Talipao town.

He said two of those who surrendered were notorious Abu Sayyaf fighters, Almudar Muhajiri and Warsib Hamja, under terrorist leader Radulan Sahiron.

Maj. William Gonzales, commander of the 11th Infantry Division, welcomed the mass surrender.  “These 14 people are from various age groups. One thing in common is that they have once gone astray but are now slowly going back on track,” he said, adding, Muhajiri was among those in the military’s watch list.

“He was in hiding for four years before he came clean. He told me that he realized that he doesn’t have a future in the group of Radulan. He wants to live in peace and wants to start a new life to be able to help his family,” Gonzales said.

“Meanwhile, Hamja revealed in an interview that he joined the Abu Sayyaf in 2014 and that he was wounded during the encounter with the military around 2016. Since then, he never returned to the group but was always hiding from government forces,” he added.

Gonzales, who assured the surrenderees they will get assistance, also quoted Hamja as saying: “Sa hirap ng buhay, nasilaw ako sa pera kaya naisipan kong sumama sa grupo ngunit napagtanto ko na wala palang patutunguhan ang ginagawa namin puro patayan nalang. Gusto ko ng mamuhay ng mapayapa, makapaghanap ng trabaho para sa pamilya ko.”

“I’m glad that you are here with us. The 11th Infantry Division is constantly working with local government units to formulate and implement programs for all of you. As for the troops present, let’s continue our mission. We will not stop until ultimately end terrorism in this province,” he said.

The Abu Sayyaf group, whose leaders pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, was behind numerous deadly bombings in Sulu, Basilan, Zamboanga City and other parts of Mindanao. It is also involved in ransom kidnappings and brutal slayings of their Filipino and foreign hostages over the past decades.