Philippine military to verify reports about senior Abu Sayyaf leader’s death

Roel Pareño
Zamboanga, Philippines
Philippine military to verify reports about senior Abu Sayyaf leader’s death A group of people, described by police as former combatants of the militant group Abu Sayyaf, swear an oath of allegiance to the government following a ceremonial surrender of their weapons in the town of Jolo, Philippines, July 30, 2022.
[Nickee Butlangan/AFP]

The Philippine military on Monday said it was verifying reports that the most senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, for whom Washington is offering a U.S. $1 million bounty, has died of natural causes.  

Radullan Sahiron was among the militants who made the Abu Sayyaf a byword in international terrorism for helping carry out cross-border abductions, which on one occasion in the early 2000s included the murders of American citizens.

The police and military were also looking for confirmation after some residents from the far-southern Sulu Islands posted on their social media site that the one-armed Sahiron had died.

A Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS) official would not confirm or deny Sahiron’s death “unless there is an eyeball confirmation,” but said he had received similar reports. The official did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak about the matter.

The JTFS is a military anti-terror unit that was formed to address the Abu Sayyaf and terrorism- related problems in Sulu.

Little has been heard of Sahiron since 2017, when he was widely reported to be suffering from age-related illnesses.

A native of Sulu’s Patikul town, Sahiron was originally among the fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Sulu, according to military dossiers. He was later acknowledged to be among the original members of the Abu Sayyaf after the MNLF signed a peace treaty with the government in the 1990s.

Sahiron’s fierce command of militants on the battlefield aboard his white horse earned him the nickname, Commander Putol (one arm). His right arm was injured in the 1970s during a fight with Philippine security forces, and it was amputated above his elbow.

Officials say Sahiron was among a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits who in 2000 launched a daring cross-border raid at a diving resort in Sabah, Malaysia, and snatched 21 tourists – 10 Europeans, 9 Malaysians, and 2 Filipino resort employees. 

The captives were taken by speedboat to Abu Sayyaf jungle camps in Sulu. The victims were freed in batches after almost half a year in captivity, after ransoms of millions of dollars were paid.

The following year, officials say, Sahiron was again involved in kidnappings initiated by another group of Abu Sayyaf fighters, who seized 17 tourists, including three U.S. citizens, from an upscale resort off Palawan. Two of the American hostages were later killed – one of them was beheaded.

It was his involvement in the kidnapping of American nationals that placed Sahiron on the U.S. most wanted criminals list with a bounty of $1 million, through the U.S. Reward for Justice Program.


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