Of­fi­cial: Abu Sayyaf har­bor­ing sui­cide bomber

Sun.Star Pampanga - - NATION! -

MANILA — An Abu Sayyaf leader ac­cused of plot­ting a sui­cide attack in a Ro­man Catholic cathe­dral in Jolo, Sulu may be har­bor­ing a for­eign would-be sui­cide bomber in his jun­gle base, a se­nior of­fi­cial said Thurs­day, Fe­bru­ary 7.

In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ed­uardo Año said Abu Sayyaf com­man­der Hatib Ha­jan Sawad­jaan, who al­legedly plot­ted the Jan­uary 27 attack at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathe­dral on Jolo is­land that killed 23 peo­ple, was also be­hind a sui­cide attack last year that killed 11 peo­ple in nearby Basi­lan province.

Sawad­jaan’s goal was to as­sert his new role as Is­lamic State group leader in Min­danao, Año said.

The Jolo attack, al­legedly car­ried out by two In­done­sian sui­cide bombers, has re­newed ter­ror­ism fears across the Philip­pines. The na­tional po­lice have been placed on full alert and se­cu­rity has been strength­ened in churches, shop­ping malls and other pub­lic ar­eas.

Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte has or­dered troops to de­stroy the Abu Sayyaf, lead­ing to a re­newed mil­i­tary of­fen­sive in the south that has in­cluded spo­radic air strikes and gun­bat­tles.

Año said in an in­ter­view that gov­ern­ment forces have re­ceived in­tel­li­gence about the pres­ence of an Ara­bic man in Sawad­jaan’s camp in the jun­gles of Sulu province’s Patikul town, and are tak­ing steps to cap­ture him along with Sawad­jaan and his men.

“We’re watch­ing this man be­cause he’s also a trained bomber and a (would-be) sui­cide bomber,” Año said. He said the ban­dit could be a Ye­meni or an Egyp­tian na­tional and has mar­ried a lo­cal vil­lager.

Año, a for­mer mil­i­tary chief of staff who as in­te­rior sec­re­tary su­per­vises the na­tional po­lice, pro­vided more de­tails about Sawad­jaan, a low-key Moro insurgent in his 60s who he said was rec­og­nized last year by the Is­lamic State group as its lead rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the coun­try’s south, al­though IS also re­gards three other lo­cal militant fac­tions as al­lies.

“The bomb­ing of the cathe­dral and the bomb­ing of Basi­lan were Sawad­jaan’s moves to as­sert lead­er­ship,” Año said. Po­lice have said the Abu Sayyaf staged the cathe­dral bomb­ing to gain at­ten­tion and pos­si­ble fund­ing from the Is­lamic State group.

In the July 31 Basi­lan attack, a ter­ror­ist be­lieved to be of Moroc­can de­scent was killed when drums of ex­plo­sives ex­ploded in a van he was driv­ing. Ten Filipino mili­ti­a­men and vil­lagers were also killed in the pow­er­ful blast, which wounded 11 oth­ers.

Po­lice said the for­eign ter­ror­ist had tar­geted a gath­er­ing of about 2,000 mostly stu­dents and teach­ers in Basi­lan’s Lami­tan city but his ve­hi­cle stalled and vil­lagers whom he asked for help be­came sus­pi­cious when they saw wires pro­trud­ing from plas­tic gal­lon con­tain­ers in the ve­hi­cle. The ve­hi­cle ex­ploded as troops ap­proached.

Año said the ter­ror­ist, who used the nom de guerre Abu Kathir Al-Maghrib, had stayed in Sawad­jaan’s camp in Jolo be­fore he trav­eled to Basi­lan. Both the Basi­lan and Jolo at­tacks were de­layed be­cause of fund­ing prob­lems, he said.

“That Moroc­can lived in the camp of Sawad­jaan. He was seen by hostages,” Año said.

An In­done­sian ter­ror­ist who al­legedly car­ried out the cathe­dral attack stayed in Sawad­jaan’s strong­hold for a while and ar­ranged for his wife to travel to Jolo to help carry out the bomb­ing, Año said. The Jolo and Basi­lan bombs were made of sim­i­lar ex­plo­sives and most likely were as­sem­bled by a for­eign militant, he said.

The Philip­pines will ask the help of In­done­sian au­thor­i­ties in iden­ti­fy­ing the two sui­cide at­tack­ers through their re­mains, he said.

Early this week, na­tional po­lice Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Os­car Al­bay­alde said five sus­pected Abu Sayyaf ban­dits who es­corted the In­done­sian cou­ple around Jolo ahead of the bomb­ing have been taken into cus­tody and charged with mur­der and at­tempted mur­der.

The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 300 to 400 armed fight­ers, has been black­listed by the United States and the Philip­pines as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion be­cause of years of bomb­ings, kid­nap­pings and be­head­ings.

Sawad­jaan is a Mus­lim preacher who has been linked to ran­som kid­nap­pings and the be­head­ings of hostages, in­clud­ing two Cana­dian men in 2016, be­fore the cathe­dral bomb­ing. (AP)

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