US declares Abu Sayyaf leader global terrorist

Philippine soldiers look at the bodies of members of the Abu Sayyaf group after an encounter in Jolo, Sulu province on the southern island of Mindanao. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 September 2019

US declares Abu Sayyaf leader global terrorist

  • A female militant from Philippines is also on the latest list

MANILA: The US has added a 60-year-old leader of the pro-Daesh Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan, and a female militant from Mindanao to its list of global terrorists.

The names of Sawadjaan and Almaida Marani Salvin, 30, were among those placed on the US Treasury’s sanctions blacklist released on the eve of the Sept. 11 attacks.

It followed US President Donald Trump signing an executive order that enhances America’s ability to go after financiers of militant groups, their leaders and supporters. The US State Department said that the executive order was the most significant update of terrorist designations since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and “will enable the US to more effectively sanction the leaders of terrorist organizations and those who train to commit acts of terrorism.”

“The State Department is moving aggressively to implement these new authorities,” it said, adding that the designation of Sawadjaan and everyone else on the list “seeks to deny these terrorists the resources to plan and carry out attacks.”

Sawadjaan has been called the mastermind behind the suicide attacks on Sulu Islands on Jan. 27 this year. The first attack on a cathedral in Jolo city killed 23 people — including an Indonesian couple who carried out the bombing — and wounded 109 others. 

The second attack on June 28 targeted an army counterterrorism unit brigade in Indanan town, killing eight people and injuring 22 others. It was also the first officially confirmed case of a suicide bombing carried out by a Filipino, identified as Norman Lasuca, in the Philippines. The other suspect in the attack was believed to be a foreigner.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan has been called the mastermind behind the suicide attacks on Sulu island on Jan. 27 this year.

• Little is known about the female militant identified as Almaida Marani Salvin, 30, who was arrested in April 2019.

A suicide bombing attempt on Sept. 8 — on another army detachment in Indanan town — involved an abaya-wearing, Caucasian-looking female who was the sole casualty. The suspect blew herself up when she attempted to enter the Army 35th IB but was stopped by a soldier who was manning the gate.

In the wake of the failed suicide attack last Sunday, Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the military was on the lookout for two more suicide bombers in Sulu who were planning to stage attacks on military camps. 

Excluding the perpetrators of the Jolo Cathedral bombing, Sobejana said: “There are five of them who were anointed, who have been given the task to explode themselves.”

Besides the two involved in the June 28 attack and the suspect in the explosion last Sunday, the Wesmincom chief said: “There were two more left.”

Apart from the attacks in Sulu, Philippines officials also blamed Sawadjaan for organizing the first suicide bombing in the country — at a security checkpoint on Lamitan, Basilan province in July last year — killing at least 10 people.

But despite being identified as the mastermind behind all four suicide bombings in Mindanao, a spokesperson for the Philippines armed forces said: “Sawadjaan cannot be credited to have put up a squad of suicide bombers.”

Marine Brig. Gen. Edgar Arevalo also said that the small number of foreign terrorists believed to be in Mindanao, with no community, relatives or groups, “need to associate with Sawadjaan for survival, logistics and intelligence to carry-out their terrorism activities. Hence, the affiliation.”

“On the part of (Sawadjaan), he needs these terrorists to pursue his personal ends of becoming prominent or becoming recognized as the emir. He needs the notoriety, the grim and gruesome murder and destruction, to gain financial and logistics support from terrorist organizations abroad,” Arevalo said.

In February this year, a report by the US Department of Defense (DoD) said that Sawadjaan was “the acting Daesh emir in the Philippines,” replacing Isnilon Hapilon who was killed in the 2017 Marawi siege. However, “it was not clear what ties Sawadjaan had with the Daesh-core.”

Last month, the seventh quarterly Operations Pacific Eagle — Philippines (OPE-P) report by the DoD Office of the Inspector General stated that “while the southern Philippines has struggled with violent separatism for decades, suicide attacks were virtually unheard of until the rise of Daesh.”

Meanwhile, little is known about Salvin, who according to the US, “has materially assisted, sponsored or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to, Daesh-Philippines.”

Information provided by the US Treasury Department shows that Salvin was arrested in April this year in Zamboanga City “based on her suspected unlawful manufacture, sale, acquisition, disposition, importation or possession of an explosive or incendiary device.”

During the raid, Philippines authorities recovered improvised explosive device components, as well as bank accounts and passbooks for Salvin linked to Daesh-Philippines (Daesh-P) funding.

It was further stated that “as of early 2019, Philippine authorities determined Salvin, who was the wife of a Daesh-P leader, conducted financial transactions, procurement, transportation of firearms and explosives, and facilitated the recruitment and travel of foreign fighters to the Philippines.”


UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

Updated 15 September 2019

UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

  • Johnson said he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what
  • “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the Mail

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has compared himself to The Incredible Hulk in a newspaper interview emphasizing his determination to take Britain out of the European Union next month.
Johnson faces considerable legal and political hurdles but told the Mail on Sunday he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the widely read tabloid, invoking the comic book and film character known for formidable but destructive strength.
Johnson remains defiant even though Parliament has passed a law requiring him to seek an extension to the deadline if no deal is reached by mid-October. He has also lost his working majority in Parliament and been told by Scotland’s highest court that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal.
Johnson portrays himself as more convinced than ever that Britain will break with the EU at the end of October.
He will have a lunchtime meeting in Luxembourg on Monday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to try to modify the Irish backstop that has been a main sticking point, but EU leaders did not seem impressed by Johnson’s invocation of the Hulk.
The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said the comments showed a lack of maturity.
“Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile,” he tweeted. “Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed?“
Juncker, who has downplayed hopes of a breakthrough at Monday’s meeting, also expressed alarm that many people in Britain seem to feel a British departure without a deal with the EU would be a positive thing.
“It would be terrible chaos,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio. “And we would need years to put things back in order. Anyone who loves his country, and I assume that there are still patriots in Britain, would not want to wish his country such a fate.”
The Oct. 31 deadline looms large because Johnson has not said he will seek another extension if no deal is reached, despite legislation passed by Parliament shortly before it was suspended.
Britain’s Supreme Court this week will rule on whether Johnson overstepped the law when he shut the legislature for a crucial five-week period.
The Liberal Democrats, who have been enjoying a revival, voted overwhelmingly at their party conference Sunday to end the Brexit process entirely if they come to power.
Party leader Jo Swinson said Article 50, which triggered Brexit, would be revoked if she becomes prime minister.
The party gained an important member Saturday with the defection of Sam Gyimah, a former Conservative minister. He is the sixth legislator to switch allegiance and join the Liberal Democrats this year.
Johnson also continues to take flak from former Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the 2016 referendum on Brexit.
Cameron said in an interview published Sunday that Johnson didn’t really believe in Brexit when he broke ranks and led the campaign to take Britain out of the EU. Cameron had been expecting Johnson’s help during the hard-fought campaign.
Cameron says of Johnson: “The conclusion I am left with is that he risked an outcome he didn’t believe in because it would help his political career.”
Cameron is giving interviews to gain publicity for his upcoming memoirs.