By Jeoffrey Maitem
A senior suspected member of the Islamic State militant group in the Philippine has surrendered to the military in southern Sultan Kudarat province, authorities said Thursday.
Officials identified the suspect as Khalid Kalaing, 57, and said he was a sub-leader of the Maguid Group, a faction of Daulah Islamiyah (DI), as the Islamic State (IS) chapter in the country is known.
“His surrender was due to the relentless efforts of security forces with the cooperation of the local officials,” said Lt. Col. Romel Valencia, commanding officer of the 7th Infantry Battalion.
Kalaing gave himself up to government troops on Wednesday near the town of Isulan, Valencia said. The military had dismissed the Maguid Group as a small faction made up mostly of militants engaged in banditry and other crimes.
“The surrenderer feared for his life because of continuous focused military operations against the DI and the equally lawless Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the borders of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat provinces,” Valencia said, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency.
The suspect was being questioned, the military said, adding it could not divulge more details about him.
Kalaing also surrendered various weapons, including several assault rifles of varying calibers as well as ammunition, Valencia said.
According to a report by PNA, reporters interviewed Kalaing by telephone on Thursday.
“I have been sleepless for days lately thinking about my family and the normal life I once enjoyed. I feared that I might be a casualty of a lost cause,” Kalaing said.
“Suddenly, I just wanted to become a farmer and be with my family again,” PNA quoted him as saying.
Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, commander of Joint Task Force Central and the 6th Infantry Division, called on other militant groups in the volatile Mindanao region of the southern Philippines to give up, or be slain or arrested in military and police operations.
“Continuous coordination is being undertaken to provide appropriate cash and livelihood assistance and benefits to members of terrorist groups that have surrendered to help them start a new and sustainable life with the community and their families,” Uy said.
Apart from the Maguid faction, other Muslim armed groups have pledged allegiance to IS in the Philippine south.
These include the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a group that split from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest former separatist group, which now controls an autonomous region in the south after it signed a peace pact with the Philippine government.
The BIFF backed a five-month siege of the southern Philippine city of Marawi carried out by Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern pro-IS fighters in 2017, but held off from sending its fighters there.
Last month, the BIFF engaged in clashes with the military last month, and President Rodrigo Duterte flew to the south to rally troops against the militants.