Teenage Abu Sayyaf militant surrenders in southern Philippines, military says

Roel Pareño
Zamboanga, Philippines
Teenage Abu Sayyaf militant surrenders in southern Philippines, military says A group of people, described by police as former combatants of the militant group Abu Sayyaf, swear an oath of allegiance to the Philippine government following a ceremonial surrender of their weapons in the town of Jolo, July 30, 2022.
[Nickee Butlangan/AFP]

A 13-year-old Egyptian member of the Abu Sayyaf militant group and a sub-leader of the outfit have surrendered to the military in the southern Philippines, the military said Friday. 

The teenager gave himself up to troops this week in Indanan, a town in the island province of Sulu, officials said. He joined the militant group when he was 10, and blamed his mother, a suicide bomber who died in an explosion in Indanan in 2019, for his introduction into militancy, he told the military.

The boy was with the sub-leader who was identified by an alias, as Ellam, 26. The duo turned over two M-16 rifles, a magazine and 20 ammunition during their surrender. 

“He is the last juvenile foreign terrorist,” the military said in a statement, referring to the teenager.

He “joined the ASG as a juvenile 10-year-old fighter and was involved in numerous encounters in Sulu, where he incurred two injuries in his head and right forearm,” the military said.

The statement added that the teenager entered the country with his stepfather, mother, and two brothers through Manila’s international airport.

The family later moved to Sulu, a province in the far south where the Abu Sayyaf is known to operate. Later that same year, the family attached itself to a unit controlled by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf leader who was the acknowledged supremo of the Islamic State group in the Philippines. 

Sawadjaan however is believed to have been killed in a clash with the military sometime in 2020, though his body has never been recovered.

The teenager’s mother, Reda Mohammad Mahmud, blew herself up during a suicide bombing mission at a military detachment in Indanan in September 2019, according to the military. No other casualties were reported then, as soldiers were quick to react when they saw Mahmud acting suspiciously and sought cover.

The teenager’s stepfather, Abdurahmil, and one of the boy’s brothers, Abdurahman, were killed in a clash with soldiers in Indanan in November 2019, according to the military. The boy’s elder brother, Yusof, died in a similar clash with soldiers in Patikul town, also in Sulu, in April 2021.

The teenager thought his family was going on a vacation in the Philippines in 2017, according to initial debriefing notes by the military. He said his late mother “dragged him and his brothers into horrific situations where they must fight against the government forces and conduct atrocities,” the military said.

The military said Ellam, who rose to become a sub-commander, joined the Abu Sayyaf at the age of 15. 

He reportedly served in the security detail for senior Abu Sayyaf leader Radullan Sahiron who the military said reportedly died of old age in Sulu this past March. The information, however, was still subject to military verification.

“He was involved in numerous armed confrontations between the ASG and government forces from 2009 to 2021,” the military said of Ellam.

Maj. Gen. Ignatius Patrimonio, commander of the military’s Joint Task Force Sulu, attributed the surrender of the teenager and Ellam to the military’s collaboration with local village officials, other stakeholders and “peace-loving people of Indanan.”

The Abu Sayyaf, or “Bearers of the Sword,” was founded by Afghanistan-trained militant Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani initially to fight for an independent Islamic region in the southern Philippines. 

The outfit however later degenerated into a bandit group specializing in kidnappings, beheadings and bombings and was once linked to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah. 

In recent years, it affiliated with the Islamic State group, and one of its leaders, Isnilon Hapilon was named the overall leader of the IS branch here and in Southeast Asia. Hapilon led foreign and Filipino fighters in taking over the city of Marawi in 2017, hoping to make it an Islamic caliphate in the Southeast Asian region. 

At least 1,200 militants, police and military troops and civilians perished in the five-month violence in Marawi, in what is the most violent urban fighting seen in the country in recent years. 

Hapilon was killed in Marawi, but was quickly replaced by Sawadjaan. 

Froilan Gallardo and Richel V. Umel in Iligan, southern Philippines, contributed to this report. 


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