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.”


Chileans vote overwhelmingly for new constitution

Updated 47 min 24 sec ago

Chileans vote overwhelmingly for new constitution

  • The vote threw out the constitution left by the regime of 1973-1990 dictator Augusto Pinochet

SANTIAGO, Chile: Chileans voted overwhelmingly in a landmark referendum Sunday to replace their dictatorship-era constitution, long seen as underpinning the nation’s glaring economic and social inequalities.
The result set off wild celebrations across the capital and other cities after voters turned out in droves toThe vote threw out the constitution left by the regime of 1973-1990 dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Thousands of people flocked onto the streets of Santiago amid a cacophony of horn-blaring to celebrate victory for the “Approve” campaign within minutes of the polls closing.
“I never imagined that us Chileans would be capable of uniting for such a change!” said a jubilant Maria Isabel Nunez, 46, as she walked in the crowd hand-in-hand with her 20-year-old daughter.
With more than half the votes counted, the “Approve” campaign had amassed 77.9 percent of the vote, with the “Reject” campaign polling just 22.10 percent.
Acknowledging the result, President Sebastian Pinera called on the nation to work together for a “new constitution” in a speech broadcast from his Moneda Palace surrounded by his cabinet.
“This plebiscite is not the end, it is the beginning of a path that we must all walk together to agree on a new constitution for Chile,” Pinera said.
“Until now, the constitution has divided us. From today we must all work together so that the new constitution is the great framework of unity, stability and the future.”

Social unrest
Police had fired tear gas and water cannon in brief clashes with stone-throwing demonstrators in Plaza Italia, the epicenter of months of protests, as night fell.
However, the violence was replaced by celebration after the police retreated.
Earlier, in long, orderly lines across Santiago and in cities around the country, masked voters shuffled patiently toward polling stations to participate in the historic referendum.
The vote came a year to the day after more than one million people thronged downtown Santiago amidst a wave of social unrest that left 30 people dead and thousands wounded.
The sheer size of the October 25 march demonstrated the breadth of social discontent and proved a tipping point in demonstrators’ demands for a referendum.
Within weeks, Pinera had agreed to initiate a process to draft a new constitution, beginning with a referendum to decide the fate of the current text.
“I am full of hope that things will change and that we will bring a radical turnaround in this country,” said Romina Nunez, 42, a poll organizer at the National Stadium in Santiago, the country’s biggest polling center.
Thousands were voting at the vast stadium, which achieved infamy as a detention center where military regime opponents were tortured.
Elias Perez, a 39-year-old psychologist, said he wanted to give the place another meaning as he prepared to vote for change in a place rich with symbolism.
“To be able to exercise the right to vote in a space of profound pain, where there were systematic violations of the human rights of many fellow Chileans, and be able to generate change in this same space — is a symbolic way of paying honor and tribute to all those who are no longer with us,” he said.

Pinochet's rule
Demand for a new constitution had been a recurring theme of the protests, set off by a hike in public transport fares. They rapidly turned into widespread demonstrations against social and economic inequalities — encompassing health, education and pensions — inherited from Pinochet’s rule.
For those supporting change, mainly the leftist opposition parties, a new charter would allow a fairer social order to replace the persistent inequalities enshrined in the current charter.
Critics say the constitution is an obstacle to meaningful social reforms, and a new one is necessary to provide more equitable access to private health care, education and pension systems.
The new constitution would expand the role of the state in providing a welfare safety net, ensuring basic rights to health, education, water distribution and pensions.
Many conservatives, however, say the constitution has been key to Chile’s decades of economic growth and stability and a greater state role would add pressure on an economy struggling to emerge from the Covid-19 health crisis.
They say their fears have been fueled by the violence that accompanied the protests.
As part of the referendum, Chileans also voted by a similar margin for a 155-member convention made up entirely of elected citizens to be tasked with drafting the new constitution.
Their draft would be put to another referendum in 2022.
Strict coronavirus protocols were in place for the vote. Voters had their hands sprayed with gel by marshalls as they entered polling stations, and tables, chairs and other furniture inside had been disinfected.
Chile surpassed 500,000 Covid-19 cases on Saturday, with nearly 14,000 deaths.