Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana — PHILSTAR/JOVENCIO CAGANDE
THE PHILIPPINE military has identified at least two of the seven foreign jihadists who are grooming locals to become suicide bombers in the Mindanao region, according to Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana.
The nationalities of the foreign terrorists linked to Islamic State (IS) are Egyptian, Malaysian, Indonesian and Singaporean, the Defense chief told reporters on Thursday.
“We have the names of a couple but we are not going to give them out yet until we get all the names,” he said, adding that the foreign jihadists are with the group of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan on the island of Jolo in southern Philippines.
Abu Sayyaf leader Sawadjaan, who is believed to have taken over the leadership of IS in the Philippines, allegedly masterminded the bombing of a Catholic cathedral in Jolo in January, killing 23 people and wounding about 100 more.
This was one of the few major instances where suicide attacks were used in the predominantly Catholic nation. Another was a van blast at a military checkpoint on the island of Basilan in July 2018, where at least 10 people died.
IS has also claimed responsibility for the June 28 attack near a military camp in Sulu province. The military later identified one of the two suicide bombers as the first Filipino to have participated in the tactic.
The Philippines has received attention from IS as it turns its sights on Southeast Asia after the fall of its self-proclaimed “caliphate” in the Middle East.
Mr. Lorenzana said they have received reports that about 100 foreign terrorists have entered the country and are staying in Central Mindanao.
He said military operations targeting members of the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo will be intensified.
Resource-rich Mindanao is home to a number of armed groups, several of which are linked to the decades-old insurgency seeking to create an independent Muslim state.
The Abu Sayyaf, the most violent extremist group in Mindanao, has used terror both for profit and to promote its jihadist agenda, according to the US National Counterterrorism Center. The group engages in kidnapping for ransom, bombings, assassinations and extortion. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas