MANILA, Philippines – The 7 foreign terrorists whom the military said were at large in western Mindanao could be in Jolo embedded with a faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) linked to the Islamic State (ISIS), Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Thursday, July 25.
The 7 foreigners could have slipped into the country through the loosely guarded waters around the islands of Tawi-Tawi and Sulu provinces near the country’s maritime borders with Malaysia and Indonesia.
“I think the nationalities are Egyptian, Malaysian, Indonesian, and Singaporean….Mostly, puslit lang, puslit (just stowaways) from Malaysia and Indonesia by small boats going to Tawi-Tawi first, not the big island but the small islands there, then eventually they move to Jolo and join up with the group of Sahiron and Sawadjaan,” Lorenzana told reporters at a presentation of the Philippine Coast Guard’s new boats and trucks at the Port of Manila.
Military reports indicate the 7 are working with the ASG faction led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, whom Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said, is the leader of ISIS in the Philippines.
Radullon Sahiron leads the ASG faction that rejects ISIS, and whose activities mainly involve kidnap-for-ransom.
On Tuesday, July 23, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana said the 7 foreigners are probably ISIS terrorists training bombers, and possibly suicide bombers, for the ASG Sawadjaan faction and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Lorenzana dismissed rumors that “nearly 100 other foreign terrorists” are at large in central Mindanao. He said security forces could confirm only the 7, some of whose names they had already identified.
The police and the military earlier this month confirmed the first instance of a Filipino suicide bomber, killed in the twin attack on an army camp in Indanan, Sulu, on June 28.
The other bomber is believed to be a foreigner.
On Wednesday, July 24, the AFP backed up the Indonesian police who said the two suicide bombers in the Jolo Cathedral attack on January 27 were an Indonesian couple.
A vehicle explosion in Lamitan, Basilan, on July 31, 2018, is suspected to have been carried out by a Moroccan suicide attacker.
“Magkakaroon tayo ng intensification ng operations sa Jolo one of these days. We would like to finish once and for all ‘yung Abu Sayyaf ‘tsaka yung terrorism,” Lorenzana said. (We will have an intensification of operations in Jolo one of these days. We would like to finish once and for all the Abu Sayyaf and terrorism.)
In an official statement, the AFP said it “has neutralized” 198 local terrorists so far this year. Those include 89 ASG memebrs: 53 killed, 24 who surrendered, and 12 who were captured by government troops. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.