THE Philippines is “a breeding ground for terrorists,” a Filipino suspect in a plot to launch attacks on New York City boasted to his companions, the US Justice Department said Saturday.
Russell Salic and two others are accused of planing attacks on New York City in the name of the Islamic State group during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2016.
A statement released by the US embassy in Manila said Salic, 37, transferred money to the other suspects for the operation, saying he could safely do this from the Philippines without attracting attention.
Multiple locations including New York’s subway, Times Square and some concert venues were identified as targets in the plot that was foiled by an undercover FBI agent, US authorities announced Friday.
The agent posed as an IS supporter and communicated with Salic and his two alleged accomplices Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, a 19-year-old Canadian who purchased bombmaking materials, and Talha Haroon, a 19-year-old American citizen living in Pakistan.
El Bahnasawy told the undercover FBI agent that Salic was a trusted IS supporter who had provided funding to help the group on prior occasions, according to the Justice Department.
The statement quoted messages sent by Salic to others involved in the plot in which he described terror laws in the Philippines as “not strict” in comparison to countries such as Australia and the UK.
“Terrorists from all over the world usually come here as a breeding ground for terrorists… hahahaha… But no worry here in Philippines. They dont care bout IS… Only in west,” he added.
Salic was arrested in the Philippines around April 2017, the statement said.
It added that El Bahnasawy, who authorities say has pled guilty to “terrorism charges”, was arrested in New Jersey in May 2016 and Haroon was arrested in Pakistan around September 2016.
The extradition of Haroon and Salic to the US is pending, according to prosecutors.
US authorities said Friday that Salic had sent “approximately $423” to fund the attacks and had promised to send more.
The largely-Roman Catholic Philippines has been struggling for years with armed insurgencies arising from the Muslim minority in the country’s restive south.
Various Muslim militant groups have publicly pledged allegiance to IS in the past. Armed militants flying the black IS flag have been besieging the southern city of Marawi since May, leaving at least 955 people dead.
The fighting, which is still raging despite the Philippine military using artillery, airstrikes and US military assistance, has left the once-thriving city in ruins with thousands of civilians displac
A Palace spokesman on Sunday said the Duterte administration is aggressively addressing the problem of terrorism.
“The suspect who said that the Philippines is a breeding ground for terrorists was arrested early this year. This government is already aggressively addressing the terror threats as you may notice in the operations that led to his [Russell Salic] arrest and the battle in Marawi,” said Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.
Salic, a Filipino doctor accused of plotting terror attacks in the United States, was arrested months ago in the Philippines for his alleged involvement in kidnappings and beheadings blamed on pro-Islamic State group militants, an official said Saturday.
“We confirm that Russell Salic, who has been charged for allegedly supporting a foiled terror plot in New York City, is under the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation [NBI],” said presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella on the involvement of a Filipino in New York terror plot.
“Doctor Salic, said to be the physician attending to the Maute Group, is currently undergoing preliminary investigation before the Department of Justice [DoJ] over kidnapping and murder charges.”©The Philippines shares information and extends full cooperation with partners on matters pertaining to terrorism, and in the case of Dr. Salic will include initiating extradition proceedings being requested by the US,” said Abella. “©
“The preliminary investigation of the case against Mr. Salic will continue while extradition proceedings are being processed,” said Abella.
Chief State Counsel Ricardo Paras said that a Manila court is weighing a US government request that Salic be extradited to face terrorism financing complaints.
Paras said even if the court approves the US extradition request, the Department of Justice in Manila would have to decide whether to let Salic face criminal complaints in the Philippines first or be allowed to be flown to the U.S. to answer the terrorism allegations there.
“The US can also request for a temporary surrender of Salic to its custody, but it’s in our options to require him to face criminal complaints here first,” Paras said.
Salic, 37, is accused of sending money to help fund the planned attacks, according to US court documents, which have been made public.
He allegedly told an undercover FBI agent posing as an Islamic extremist that his ultimate goal was to join the Islamic State group in Syria but that “it would be a great pleasure if we can slaughter” people in New York, the documents said.
Filipino state prosecutors say Salic was taken into custody around April of this year for alleged involvement in the abduction of six sawmill workers, two of whom were later beheaded, in the southern Philippine town of Butig in Lanao del Sur province in 2016.
The kidnappings and beheadings have been blamed on the so-called Maute group, a band of militants aligned with the Islamic State group that was largely unknown until they led a siege of southern Marawi city in May.
Nearly 1,000 people, including 771 militants, have been killed in the Marawi violence, which the military says will be contained soon following months of airstrikes and ground assaults.