US considers Jolo church blast brains ‘emir’ of IS in PH
The US Department of Defense considers Hatib Sawadjaan, the Abu Sayyaf subcommander tagged as the brains behind the Jan. 27 bombing of the Catholic cathedral in Jolo, Sulu province, the “emir” of Islamic State (IS) in the Philippines.
In a quarterly report covering October to December last year, the department noted the “fractured relationship” of the local IS movement with the IS “core group” in Iraq and Syria, as a result of the killing of its emir in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon, in last year’s Marawi siege.
It said that IS-inspired terror groups in Mindanao “remained fragmented and degraded,” although they still posed a security threat with an estimated 300 to 500 fighters.
The report, submitted to the US Congress by Defense Inspector General Glenn Fine, also discussed Washington’s Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines (OPE-P) and justified the US military assistance of $61.9 million (about P3.2 billion) to Manila.
Fine said the aid package would “help enhance the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capacity of Philippine forces to better track and target terrorist organizations.”
Included in the ISR assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines are a training package, software, unmanned aerial vehicle systems, tactical command posts and other equipment.
Citing an analysis of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Fine said that IS-inspired groups in Mindanao “made no progress in expanding [their] areas of operations of influence” after their defeat in Marawi.
The command clusters the Abu Sayyaf, the Maute group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines under IS-Philippines.
“(US Indo-Pacific Command) reported that IS-[Philippines] was no longer receiving the same level of financial support and quality media coverage from international affiliates as it had in 2017,” Fine said.
The US command, he said, believes that Sawadjaan acts as emir of IS in Mindanao although the “Isis-core did not confirm an emir and that it was not clear what ties Sawadjaan had with Isis-core.”
Some 40 foreign fighters, mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia, were believed to be in the Philippines during the quarter to train and fight with local terrorists, Fine said.
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