Muslim religious leaders to help 'reform' Abu Sayyaf

Philippines' Ulama Council hopes to get former terrorists to persuade others to give themselves up
Muslim religious leaders to help 'reform' Abu Sayyaf

Members of a rebel group in the southern Philippines who pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State pose for a photograph. (File photo by Mark Navales)

Muslim religious leaders in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao said they would help "reform" members of the Abu Sayyaf terror group who have surrendered to authorities.

Alih Sakaluran Aiyub, secretary-general of the Ulama Council of the Philippines, said efforts are underway to help reform former terrorists.

"[We] will mainly help in the debriefing process and re-education," said Aiyub in an interview with ucanews.com. 

He said they would focus on the "aspect of psychological" needs of those who surrendered, adding that the mechanisms that they will use need to be "subtle."

"Our approach is not terrorizing the terrorists," said Aiyub, one of the facilitators of a summit of Muslim clerics and scholars in Cotabato City this week.

The meeting, organized by the Darul Ifta of the autonomous Muslim government of Mindanao, discussed the threat of terrorism in the region.

The religious leaders agreed that the former terrorists, at least 50 of them who surrendered in recent months, can "effectively" convince active fighters to give up.

"They can be very effective," said Aiyub, adding that, "we have to win their hearts and minds."

Part of the plan of action agreed upon during the meeting was a series of consultations with local officials and the security sector.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr., commander of the Philippine military's Western Mindanao Command, welcomed the initiative.

"It would be a great help if the Ulama can re-orient and refocus the malign and distorted reasoning of the terror groups," Galvez told ucanews.com.

He highlighted the "need to unite all our efforts to win the war against Islamic extremism and terrorism in our region."

After the three-day meeting ended on May 14, the Muslim clerics and scholars issued a declaration condemning terrorism, saying that it is "forbidden and unlawful to use Islam to justify or legitimize violent extremism and terrorism."

They also admitted that it has become a challenge for Muslim religious leaders "to re-educate our constituents to rediscover our Islamic faith for justice, compassion, harmony, and peace."

Aiyub said a long-term solution to the problem of terrorism in the southern Philippine region "has been proved challenging."

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"We have to counter them ideologically.... We cannot argue with them directly if they are armed," he said.

The Philippine military last week said it has monitored 16 foreign terrorists who are operating in the southern region of Mindanao.

"These are Malaysians and Indonesians who want to establish links with [Islamic State]," said Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman of the army's 1st Infantry Division.

The military official, however, said the foreign terrorists are not being successful because of "our efforts on the ground."

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