A senior sub-leader of a pro-Islamic State militant group who was wanted for a series of abductions of foreigners in the southern Philippines has been taken into custody after surrendering to authorities through a former rebel leader, police said Friday.
Abu Sayyaf Group commander Abduljihad “Indang” Susukan was turned over to police by ex-Muslim guerrilla leader Nur Misuari on Thursday night in the southern city of Davao, Philippine National Police chief General Archie Gamboa said in a statement. Misuari had facilitated talks between Susukan and the local police over Susukan’s surrender, according to Gamboa.
“We thank Chairman Misuari for facilitating the negotiation,” the police chief said.
“The police immediately advised Mayor Inday Sara Duterte, who assured us her full cooperation and assistance, to ensure the peaceful handover and orderly transfer of custody to appropriate authorities,” he added, referring to the daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, who comes from Davao.
Susukan did not resist arrest and surrendered voluntarily while at Misuari’s house in the village of Matina, according to regional police commander Brig. Gen. Filmore Escobal.
Susukan, who was flown to Manila on Friday night aboard a military plane, is among the most prolific and notorious Abu Sayyaf commanders in recent years. He was wanted for at least 23 cases of murder and five kidnapping cases, including of Westerners who were executed by their Aby Sayyaf captors.
He was also wanted in Malaysia for kidnappings on the east coast of nearby Sabah state dating to 2013.
Hazani Ghazali, the chief of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM), said Friday that the agency was hoping to have Susukan extradited from the Philippines.
Among other cases, Susukan was allegedly linked to the kidnapping of Bernard Then, a Malaysian citizen from a seaside restaurant in Sabah back in 2015. Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded Then in November 2015.
“We will try [to extradite him]. You see that the suspect is involved in many murder cases and kidnapping-for-ransom cases in the southern Philippines. Maybe the Royal Malaysia Police would send officers to further investigate and complete the investigation into cases linked to him here,” Hazani told BenarNews.
The Philippine Army had earlier reported erroneously that Susukan had been killed during a shootout with government forces in Sulu province. According to a report by the Associated Press on Friday, Susukan gave himself up after being wounded in fighting.
Susukan was alleged to be a contemporary of Zulkifli bin Hir, a Malaysian militant and bomb maker also known as Marwan, who was killed by Philippine police commandos during a raid in the south in January 2015. Marwan was a main suspect in the 2002 Bali bombings.
Susukan also became a sub-commander under Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf militant who took over the command of the Philippine branch of Islamic State after Isnilon Hapilon was killed at the end of a five-month militant takeover of the southern city of Marawi in October 2017.
Sawadjaan’s group was also blamed for twin bomb blasts that killed 23 people at a church in Jolo, the capital of Sulu province, in January last year. That attack took place five months after a German of Moroccan descent drove a van filled with explosives through a checkpoint in southern Basilan Island, killing himself and 10 other people.
Years ago, Nur Misuari and his Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebel group signed a peace deal with Manila, under which he became the leader of an autonomous region in the southern Philippines.
However, the government later acknowledged that it was a failed experiment, with many parts of the region failing to improve despite millions of dollars in largesse invested by Manila for the area’s development.
In 2013, MNLF members laid siege to Zamboanga City in the south, engaging troops in fierce battles that left more than 200 people dead. Thousands of homes were also burned down, and Misuari went into hiding.
President Duterte, a friend of Misuari, dropped the charges against the Muslim rebel leader when he took office in 2016.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana admitted that the military was not aware that Susukan, whom he considered to be one of the country’s most wanted men, was hiding out in the president’s hometown.
“Susukan is wanted by the military. His group killed and beheaded a lot of our soldiers. I am awaiting the official report,” Lorenzana said.
Susukan’s surrender came days after the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Defense, in a quarterly report to Congress, said that efforts to combat the Philippine IS branch and associated groups in the southern Philippines did “not appear to have made a substantial difference” in the size and strength of those groups after the United States launched a military aid program in 2017 to back Manila in its counter-extremist operations.
When asked for information to explain why this had happened, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense, Dwrena Allen, replied on Friday that the Pentagon had “no additional information to offer.”
Meanwhile, senior Philippine defense and military officials did not immediately respond to efforts by BenarNews seeking their reactions to the Pentagon’s report.
Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.