A large group of Islamic militants surrendered Thursday in response to regular offensive military operations in the Southern Philippines, according to news outlets.
Twenty members of the Islamic State (IS)-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) dropped their weapons and surrendered to the 104th Infantry Brigade in Sumisip, Basilan, reports CNN.
The surrendering fighters were members of the Sumisip ASG division under the leadership of Katatong Balaman (Tatong). When they turned themselves in to authorities, the militants handed over a collection of high-powered firearms, including M16 rifles, .30 caliber M1 Garand rifles, M79 grenade launchers, .45 caliber pistols, and homemade shotguns.
“This is the result of the relentless operations we are conducting where they suffered lots of casualties,” said Col. Thomas Cirilo Donato, Jr., commander of the Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is deploying around 8,000 troops to the Southern Philippines to address the Islamic militant threat, posed by ASG. A naval blockade is also being carried out around Sulu and Basilan, the primary ASG strongholds. Around 70 Abu Sayyaf militants have been killed in the AFP’s campaign. The ASG is estimated to have several hundred fighters.
The recent surrenders indicate that the ASG may be struggling. Other indicators include the release of several prisoners.
ASG freed three Indonesian captives and a Norwegian prisoner Sunday afternoon. Two Filipino captives were set free Sunday night. The day the 20 militants surrendered, another Indonesian prisoner was released. The ASG has no known source of funding, so the organization relies on kidnapping and extortion to generate funds for its terrorist activities.
The militants are still holding 16 captives.
ASG appears to be concerned by the concentrated assaults on their positions. Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari, who often acts as an intermediary between ASG and AFP, asked the Philippines government to suspend operations against ASG in exchange for hostages.
AFP has rejected Misuari’s request. ASG’s numbers have dwindled from 500 to 300, AFP spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said . “We told our troops to keep the pressure on the Abu Sayyaf,” he explained.
“It’s time to end this terrorist problem in our country. We want to make Basilan a peaceful place to live so that development will prosper. We are closely working with the AFP to decimate all these terrorist groups,” said Mayor of Basilan Gulam Boy Hattaman.
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