The United States declared the leader of the Islamic State’s militant branch in the Philippines as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and placed him under U.S. sanctions, the State Department announced on Tuesday.
Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the leader of IS-Philippines, is blamed for masterminding the Jan. 27 church bombing in Jolo that killed 23 and injured more than 100. He is one of 12 militants linked to international terrorist organizations added to the State Department list.
“Today’s expansion of our counterterrorism authorities enables us to more effectively sanction the leaders of terrorist organizations, as well as those who participate in training to commit acts of terrorism,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a news release announcing the designations.
“Today’s actions ensure that no effort is spared to preserve the security of the United States, modernize our tools and authorities to counter terrorism, and deny terrorists the resources to plan and carry out attacks.”
The White House called the executive order signed by President Trump the most significant update of terrorist designation authorities since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. It said the order would enable the United States to “more effectively sanction the leaders of terrorist organizations and those who train to commit acts of terrorism.”
According to the State Department, the designation given to Sawadjaan and the 11 other militants listed on Tuesday aims to “deny these terrorists the resources to plan and carry out attacks.”
“All of their property and interests in property subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them,” the department said Tuesday.
As recently as July, officials reported that little was known about Sawadjaan, except that he was a senior member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which in the early 2000s was known to have joined in planning and carrying out of kidnap-for-ransom raids.
Sawadjaan replaced Isnilon Hapilon as the IS head in the Philippines, after Hapilon was killed two years ago near the end of the five-month siege of the southern city of Marawi. Hapilon, joined by other militants including the Maute brothers, planned and carried out the May 23, 2017, siege.
In February 2017, the U.S. government placed the special terrorist tag on two Philippine militant groups, the Maute group and ASG, along with Bangladesh militants Neo-JMB.
Malaysian national and IS militant Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, who was killed in 2017, was tagged with the designation as well.
Myrna Mabanza (alias Myrna Ajijul Mabanza), a former Filipina teacher received the designation in April 2018 after she allegedly facilitated the transfer of funds to Hapilon and helped Indonesian militants acquire firearms.
The U.S. declared Malaysian Mohamad Rafi Udin, Indonesian Mohammed Karim Yusop Faiz and Filipino Mohammad Reza Lahaman Kiram as Specially Designated Global Terrorists in August 2018, alleging that they had recruited foreign fighters to pledge their allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an Indonesian extremist group that also pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr, received the classification in January 2017. JAD was founded in 2015 by Aman Abdurrahman, who was sentenced to death in 2018 for his role in a series of deadly terrorist attacks.