A radical bandit blamed for the deadly bomb attack on a Jolo church
has taken over as the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Thursday, quoting US intelligence sources.
READ: Prime suspect in Jolo blast, 4 others give up
Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan has replaced the ISIS handpicked “emir of Southeast Asia,” Isnilon Hapilon, following his death by sniper fire during five-month Marawi City siege in 2017.
Año could not confirm that ISIS had picked Sawadjaan, however, but said he is now “the most recognized.”
Año said the ASG had four factions: Hatib Sawadjaan for Sulu; Furuji Indama for Basilan, Abu Dar for Lanao province and Abu Toraype for Central Mindanao.
Sawadjaan was blamed for the series of kidnappings of high-profile targets among them foreigners. He was behind the killing of Canadian nationals Robert Hall, who was executed, and John Ridsdel, who was beheaded, after they were seized from a yacht in September 2016.
He is also the main suspect in the bomb attack in Jolo. Five suspects have already surrendered to police but 14 others, including Sawadjaan, are still at large.
READ: DOJ indicts five in Jolo blasts, widens probe
The US Indo-Pacific Command reported that ISIS Philippines remained active with 300 to 550 fighters in Mindanao, whose activities are limited to Sulu.
Police reported Añother Abu Sayyaf fighter was killed in a shootout with soldiers and police in Tawi-Tawi Tuesday.
In a belated report, the Western Mindanao Command identified the slain bandit as Shaifful Julaili who fired on troops manning a government checkpoint.
Julaili had been involved in kidnapping sorties in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Sabah, Malaysia, police said.
In the wake of the declaration that the Jolo attack has been solved, the Philippine National Police has lowered its status in Metro Manila from full alert to heightened alert.
“The difference between the two status levels is really minimal. There may be less checkpoint frequencies but the mobilization of our police personnel and resources in the Metropolis continues. Our intelligence plans, strategies, and efforts to detect terrorist personalities continue,” said Metro Manila police chief Guillermo Eleazar.
He said the police would not relax their guard.
“From this sad experience, we have learned that terrorist threat is lurking over the country and can be triggered anytime, anywhere,” he said of the Jan. 27 Jolo bomb attack.
He said Metro Manila, as the center of commerce and trade, and the home of practically all government institutions departments and agencies is always a possible target of terrorists.
Testifying before a House panel, Eleazar said the metropolis is safe, given the “proactive and precautionary measures taken to avoid bombings.”
The National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Director Jose Bringas Jr. confirmed that there are no indications that the bombings will spill over to Metro Manila. With Joel E. Zubano and Maricel V. Cruz
READ: Military rescues Indonesian hostaged by Abu Sayyaf for 4 months