Gov’t eyes wiping out terrorists in Jolo in three to six months

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 29) — The government wants to wipe out terrorists in Jolo in Sulu province in the southern Philippines within three months to six months, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

“We have a huge operation going on in Jolo to ... finally stop this Abu Sayyaf,” Lorenzana told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Monday.

He said they aim to contain the terrorists in Jolo to prevent them from going to other areas in Mindanao and heading up north to the Visayas and Metro Manila.

“It’s huge because, first, they can blow themselves up. Because we know that these people are not averse to blowing themselves up, plus they can teach our local terrorists,” he said.

The Defense chief said terrorists of various nationalities who relocated to Syria are now heading back to their home countries; because of an international pushback against the Islamic State, the territory in captured by the radical Islamic terror group has significantly shrunk.

These foreign terrorists, Lorezana said, enter the Philippines through the Sulu Sea.

“[It] is so vast that you cannot patrol it unless we field in a lot of our small boats and maybe our aircraft and drones to patrol the area,” Lorenzana said. “Until we do that and put more Coast Guards [in] maybe all ..of the major thoroughfares, we will not be able to prevent them from coming in.”

Lorenzana earlier confirmed that at least seven foreign terrorists are training local suicide bombers in Mindanao, which has been under martial law since 2017 following the siege on Marawi City.

They are said to be affiliated with the group of Abu Sayyaf leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan in Jolo, who is thought to be the mastermind behind the twin bombing at the Jolo Cathedral in January.

The military has also received reports that there are over 100 terrorists in Mindanao, but Lorenzana said they still could not verify this.

CNN Philippines Senior Digital Producer Chad de Guzman contributed to this report.