MANILA - The Abu Sayyaf leader tagged as the brains behind the Jolo Cathedral suicide bombing in January has been declared a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the US State Department.
In a statement released two days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the US gave such designation for Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, an identified coddler of foreign terrorists in southern Philippines.
The same US State Department release identified Sawadjaan as the amir or leader of the Islamic State in the Philippines.
Sawadjaan, whose stronghold is the town of Patikul in Sulu, is the head of the Abu Sayyaf faction that has pledged allegiance to ISIS.
The terror leader was identified by witnesses as the one who planned the Jan. 28 Jolo Cathedral suicide bombing, which left 23 dead and wounded more than 100 others.
The military also identified Sawadjaan as the coddler of foreign terrorists who carried out 2 successive suicide bombings in Sulu: the twin bombing at the gate of the 1st Brigade Combat Team in June that killed 5 in Indanan town, and the lone suicide bombing carried out by a “Caucasian-looking” woman at a military checkpoint, also in Indanan.
Along with Sawadjaan, 12 other terrorists from other countries were declared SDGTs by the US State Department. All 13 are leaders of the following groups: Hizballah, HAMAS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, ISIS, ISIS-Philippines, ISIS-West Africa, and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan.
The US Department of the Treasury also designated 15 terrorists from ISIS, ISIS-Philippines, ISIS-Khorasan, al-Qa’ida, HAMAS, and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force as the same.
The SDGT is a declaration made by virtue of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump, said to be “the most significant update of terrorist designation authorities since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.”
By branding them as global terrorists, the US government seeks to “expose and isolate organizations and individuals, and deny them access to the US financial system.”
“Today’s actions seek to deny these terrorists the resources to plan and carry out attacks. All of their property and interests in property subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them,” read the statement.
On Wednesday, Sawadjaan’s nephew, Nanz Sawadjaan, was killed in an encounter with the Philippine military.
There are 7 known foreign terrorists currently hiding, conducting or planning attacks in Central Mindanao, while 60 other foreigners in the country are being monitored for possible ties to terrorism, authorities said.
The Philippines has had 4 suicide bombing attacks since the first in Lamitan, Basilan in 2018, all of them involving foreign terrorists, to include one carried out by Filipino Norman Lasuca, said to be the first Filipino suicide bomber in history.
“This Administration will continue to aggressively use all levers of American power, including financial sanctions, to target terrorists who plot murderous operations to indiscriminately kill innocent civilians around the world, and those who enable, facilitate, and finance their heinous acts,” read the State Department release.
ISIS-Philippines has been in the US list of terrorist organizations since February 2018, or a few months after the 5-month Marawi siege. It is classified as a different organization from ISIS and ISIS-West Africa.