Notorious Islamic State Kidnapper Arrested in the Philippines—Idang Susukan

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 8

On August 13, the Philippines National Police (PNP) arrested Anduljihad ‘Idang’ Susukan, a sub-commander of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) (Rappler, August 13). Susukan was arrested in Davao City, on the island of Mindanao, in the home of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction leader Nur Misuari. Misuari had facilitated the negotiations behind Susukan’s surrender after Malaysian media reported sightings of him walking freely in Davao City (The Star, August 13; CNN Philippines, August 13). A total of 34 arrest warrants existed against Susukan for kidnappings and killings in the southern Filipino islands and the east coast of the Malaysian province of Sabah. His history and career highlights the difficulty Southeast Asian governments face in combatting criminal and terrorism networks operating over maritime boundaries in this volatile part of the region.

Susukan is a sub-commander of the ASG faction led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who is also purportedly the acting emir of Islamic State in East Asia (ISEA) (see MLM, August 6; Manila Bulletin, August 13). Before his arrest, Susukan was based out of the Tilapao municipality in southern Jolo Island. [1] ASG factions are based around interlinked clans or families, and the Susukan clan is no exception. His family has been involved in the local insurgency for several decades. Idang Susukan’s brother, Mujib Susukan, was a key leader of ASG who was killed in a shootout with Filipino forces in May 2003. Another brother, Jaber Susukan, was killed by the AFP in June, 2017 (Anadolu Agency, June 3, 2017).

Susukan has been active in kidnapping tourists and fishermen for ransom on the east coast of Sabah since 2013. During this time, he was connected to Malaysian insurgents Zulkifli Abdihur and Amin Baco (Manila Bulletin, August 13). On April 2, 2014, he was involved in the kidnapping of a Chinese and Filipino national from a resort in Seporna, Sabah. A Chinese and a Malaysian national were kidnapped from a fish farm in Kunak, Sabahon May 6, 2014, and June 16, 2014, respectively, by Susukan and his followers. Susukan was also connected to the kidnapping of Malaysian tourist Bernard Then on May 14, 2015. Then was beheaded on November 15, 2015 (, August 13).

In February 2019, Susukan was involved in a significant clash between soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and ASG. Sawadjaan reportedly was present in leading his forces in the fight (see MLM, August 6). Reportedly, over 100 ASG insurgents engaged in the intense firefight with the Fifth Scout Ranger Battalion in Patikul, Sulu province (CNN Philippines, February 3, 2019). Although it was first reported that Susukan had been killed in this encounter, it later emerged that he had survived, but lost his left arm in the fight (Daily Express, February 10, 2019).

Reportedly, as a consequence of this serious injury, Susukan surrendered to Nur Misuari and his faction of the MNLF on Jolo Island in April 2020 (Rappler, August 13). Though Misuari is an MNLF leader who has been fighting for Mindanao independence since the 1970s and currently has a warrant out for his arrest, he has recently been engaging in peace negotiations with the Filipino government. Misuari led MNLF forces in a siege of Zambanoanga City in 2013, in an attempt to seize the city from the Filipino government. Susukan reportedly took part in this operation (Philippines Star, August 14). Misuari has since worked with Filipino President Robert Duterte to facilitate the surrender of ISEA and ASG terrorists in an attempt to redeem his reputation with Manila (CNN Philippines, August 13; Straits Times, August 15). Susukan stayed with Misuari in Jolo Island until early August, when the two reportedly travelled to Davao City to have Susukan fitted for a prosthetic arm. At this time, and following the publication of his presence in the city, Susukan surrendered to the police (The Star, August 13).

AFP and PNP officials said in the days following Susukan’s arrest that they would be vigilant for potential reprisal attacks. Such an attack appeared to have taken place when twin bombings hit the city of Jolo on August 24, killing 14 and injuring 75 (Rappler, August 24). ISEA claimed responsibility for the attack in the days following the bombings (, August 26). Some analysts linked the attack to Susukan’s arrest, though the AFP has not definitively labelled the attack as being directly connected (GMA News, August 25; The Star, August 25). Local officials have alleged that a female suicide bomber involved in the attack had links to Mundi Sawadjaan, who is the nephew of the ISEA emir and a sub-leader of the group with experience in bombmaking. The Sawadjaan faction’s responsibility for the attack would lend some credence to the reprisal theory.

Susukan’s militant career relied on the ease of movement and lack of oversight that exists in the maritime territories of the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas. Most of the kidnappings led by Susukan took place in Sabah province and involved the kidnapping of Malaysians or foreign national tourists, who would be spirited away over these seas to Sulu province, from where the ASG militants would demand ransom. The kidnapping operations involved networks of informants and spotters located in Sabah, and the money earned from ransom would go to purchase needed weapons and support ASG clan and patronage networks.

Kidnappings for ransom declined in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas in 2017, with no kidnappings taking place between March 2017-September 2018. Several factors were responsible for this drop-off. These include: some factions receiving direct funding from Islamic State and no longer requiring resources provided by kidnapping; the killing of ASG leaders and the deaths of numerous militants in the Battle of Marawi; and greater maritime and intelligence cooperation between the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as demonstrated by the joint Trilateral Maritime Patrol program (Straits Times, June 20, 2017;, October 25, 2017). [2]

The increase in kidnappings, crime, and violence in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas since 2018 is likely the result of new leaders taking the place of those killed as well as a greater need for funding from local militant networks. The trilateral efforts between the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia can partially claim credit for the temporary decrease in cross-border crimes, but their military response does nothing to change the kidnapping industry that is deeply rooted in Sulu province’s clan and political dynamics. It is quite likely that had Susukan not lost his arm and surrendered, he would have continued to kidnapfishermen and tourists from the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas. His arrest is a temporary setback for ASG that in the short-term will upend their kidnapping for ransom operations. The greater threat of instability in the region, however, will continue unless regional countries continue to increase their intelligence sharing and military cooperation and the Philippines improves its governance of both the Sulu province and the wider Muslim-majority provinces in its south, and provide economic alternatives to militant activity.


[1] Protecting the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas from Abu Sayyaf Attacks (p. 3, Rep. No. 53). (2019). Jakarta, Indonesia: Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.

[2] Ibid.