MANILA (Reuters) - An elderly, one-armed leader of the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf group has indicated via an emissary that he wants to surrender to the Philippine authorities and is tired of being on the run, an army general said on Thursday.
Brigadier-General Cirilito Sobejana, army commander on the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Jolo island, said he has met an emissary who was seeking to negotiate the surrender of Radullan Sahiron, who is more than 70 years old and wanted by the United States for the kidnapping of Western tourists 17 years ago.
The Philippines has deployed nearly 10,000 soldiers on southern Jolo to try to wipe out Abu Sayyaf as its bloody campaign of piracy and kidnapping intensifies.
“He is weak, he is tired and weary because they are moving from one place to another,” Sobejana told reporters, adding the negotiations for his surrender were at an early stage.
Abu Sayyaf was created with separatist aims but now engages mostly in banditry, and has proved to be a formidable opponent for the military. It has been holding more than two dozen captives, most of them Vietnamese sailors, who are easy prey for militants equipped with small, fast boats.
The group beheaded a Filipino last week and a German in February after ransom payment deadlines expired. Two Canadians suffered the same fate last year.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he might have troops “invade” Jolo to “finish the game” following a thwarted attempt by Abu Sayyaf to kidnap tourists on a resort island last week.
Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana in February told Reuters that Sahiron had serious differences with younger Abu Sayyaf leaders who wanted to align the group with Islamic State.
Lorenzana said the military has credible intelligence indicating Islamic State wants to gain a foothold in the restive southern Philippines.
Sobejana said the Abu Sayyaf problem in the south “will be 60-70 percent solved” if Sahiron and his followers on Jolo lay down their arms. However, he said it was also possible his successors might have more militant agendas.
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel