MANILA: Two notorious militants from the Abu Sayyaf Group, including the executioner of Canadian hostages, were detained on Friday after surrendering to the Philippine security forces, the military said.
Ben Quirino, alias Ben Tattoo, 41, and his brother Almujer Yadah, 55, were sub-leaders of the militant outfit that operates in the country’s south, and has gained notoriety for extortion, assassinations and kidnappings for ransom.
Both men have been linked to several killings, including of two Canadian nationals who were abducted from an upscale resort on Samal island in 2015 and taken captive to the group’s stronghold in Jolo, Sulu province.
The Canadians were killed in 2016 after a $6.4 million ransom was not paid. Tattoo filmed himself beheading the captives.
He was also involved in the kidnapping of Arab News Asia bureau chief Baker Atyani in 2012.
Atyani, who was working for Al-Arabiya News Channel at the time, was held captive by ASG for 18 months.
Yadah was responsible for ASG’s logistics and food supplies.
“We consider these two as the most notorious ASG leaders to have surrendered considering the number of cases that have been filed against them — from kidnapping for ransom, murder and many more,” Maj. Gen. Ignatius Patrimonio, commander of the 11th Infantry Division designated to fight militancy in Sulu, told Arab News.
“They got tired of running from pursuing military forces. Besides, they no longer have the support of the local populace; their group has been badly decimated and their brothers killed.”
Formed in 1991, ASG emerged as a splinter group of the Moro National Liberation Front, a movement seeking autonomy for Filipino Muslims in the south of the country. It was initially influenced by Al-Qaeda, but since the early 2000s has been involved mainly in criminal activity. In 2014, some of its factions pledged allegiance to Daesh.
ASG’s strength has been declining since 2018 when the Philippine military stepped up a crackdown on Daesh affiliates. Data from the 11th Infantry Division shows that the number of active militants in the group has fallen from about 300 in 2019 to an estimated 100.
Brig. Gen. Benjamin Batara Jr., commander of the 1103rd Infantry Brigade, which has jurisdiction over Tattoo and Yadah’s hometown of Patikul, told Arab News the military has been tracking the pair since last year, with the help of police, intelligence and local governments.
“But the key to how we were able to reach out to them was their families and community leaders,” he said. “Apparently, they were already under pressure because of continuous military and police operations, and a series of surrenders of their fellow Abu Sayyaf members.”
Yadah was the first to surrender and convinced Tattoo to follow suit, Batara said. The military handed the pair over to police on Friday, as both are facing a series of criminal charges.
A total of 67 Abu Sayyaf members in Sulu have surrendered to security forces in Jolo so far this year.