By The Associated Press
ZAMBOANGA, Philippines — A senior commander of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group blamed for bombings and kidnappings has surrendered in the southern Philippines, the defense chief said Thursday, expressing hope it would bring the “eventual collapse” of a key militant stronghold.
Nurhassan Jamiri surrendered with 13 of his men to army forces in southern Basilan province on Wednesday. They handed over 10 assault rifles and a large cache of ammunition and were undergoing questioning, military officials said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Jamiri’s surrender, which came after negotiations with authorities, “will hopefully bring the eventual collapse of the Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan,” the birthplace of the small but violent group, “and bring justice to the deaths of thousands of soldiers.”
Emerging in the late 1980s as an offshoot of the decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion in the south, the Abu Sayyaf lost its top commanders early in combat and descended on a bloody path toward terrorism and criminality.
The United States and the Philippines have blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization.
Jamiri has been blamed for years of bloody attacks, including a 2007 ambush in largely Muslim Basilan that killed 24 Philippine marines, several of whom were beheaded. His group has given sanctuary to other Abu Sayyaf militants behind piracy and kidnappings, including of Vietnamese sailors in recent years, the military said.
His group has also carried out bombings in the Basilan cities of Isabela and Lamitan and the southern port city of Zamboanga across the Basilan Strait, along with ransom kidnappings and extortion, military officials said.
Asked if Jamiri and his men would face prosecution, Lorenzana said yes. “Nobody should go scot-free. Surrendering did not exculpate their past crimes,” he said.
Last month, Malaysian security officials suspected that Jamiri was killed with two other gunmen in a firefight in a plantation in the east coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah. But Philippine military officials said the militant was in Basilan at the time.
President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military to crush the Abu Sayyaf but took a more conciliatory tone Monday when he said in a speech before Abu Sayyaf fighters who surrendered that he held no grudge against their group and understood why they took up arms. He offered houses and livelihood training to the former guerrillas.
At least 216 Abu Sayyaf fighters have surrendered in recent months. More than 300 fighters remain and government offensives will continue against them, a military official said.