MANILA, Philippines – Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), has been named the "mastermind" and "financier" of the Jolo Cathedral bombing which killed at least 23 and injured over 100.
"Fourteen more suspects remain at-large, including mastermind Sawadjaan, while 3 others, including 2 Asian suicide bombers had been killed," PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said on Monday, February 3 after announcing the surrender of Alias Kamah and 4 other suspects in the Jolo bombing.
"Siya ang nagpondo nito (He was the one who financed this)," he later said during the briefing.
The police suspect that the church bombing was perpetrated by the two Asians but with the help of Sawadjaan's group.
According to the timeline narrated by Albayalde, Sawadjaan funded the building of the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and planned with the Asian couple days before in Patikul, Sulu, before they went off to Jolo. (WATCH: Outside Jolo Cathedral during the bombing)
Asked how Sawadjaan funded the manufacturing of the bombs, the police chief said he most likely used the cash from the ASG's extortion, kidnapping, and possibly even illegal drugs activities.
"Besides from extortion, kidnapping, those sources of their funds, [they're] probably pushing illegal drugs [too] like what we saw in Marawi," Albayalde said in a mix of English and Filipino.
The ASG leader was last spotted when around 100 ASG members clashed with the military in Barangay Kabbon Takas, in Patikul, Sulu on Saturday morning. Sawadjaan escaped from the encounter.
Sawadjaan was also among the Abu Sayyaf leaders reportedly wounded during an encounter with government troops in Sulu in September 2018. – Rappler.com
Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.