A Filipino suspected in a thwarted jihadist attack on New York boasted that his country was “a breeding ground for terrorists,” the US Justice Department said.
Russell Salic and two others have been charged with involvement in the plot to carry out attacks in the name of Islamic State (IS) during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last year.
A statement released by the US embassy in Manila said Salic transferred money to the other suspects for the operation.
Multiple locations including the subway, Times Square and concert venues were identified as targets in the plot, which was foiled by an undercover FBI agent.
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 bomb-making materials; and Talha Haroon, a 19-year-old American citizen living in Pakistan.
El Bahnasawy told the agent that Salic was a trusted ISIS supporter who had provided funding to help the group on prior occasions.
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”.
“Terrorists from all over the world usually come here as a breeding ground for terrorists… hahahaha… But no worry here in Philippines. They don’t care bout IS… Only in west,” said Salic, a 37-year-old orthopaedic surgeon associated with a hospital in Cagayan de Oro.
Salic was arrested in the Philippines in April, the Justice Department statement said. This was in relation to a local case involving the abduction of several workers by the Maute terror group in that month.
The statement added that El Bahnasawy, who authorities say has pled guilty to “terrorism charges”, was arrested in New Jersey in May last year and Haroon was arrested in Pakistan in September 2016.
The extradition of Haroon and Salic to the US is pending. “It only means that we have to begin the extradition proceedings being requested,” Philippine Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said, without giving a timeframe.
“We have a process to be followed and this has been done many times in the past.”
Philippine military chief, General Eduardo Ano, said yesterday (Sunday, October 8) that Salic was in the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation.
Salic is also under investigation in the Philippines for the kidnapping and beheading of sawmill workers in Lanao del Sur. These probes will continue pending a decision on the extradition proceedings, the presidential palace said.
“The Philippines shares information and extends full cooperation with partners on matters pertaining to terrorism,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
US authorities have said that Salic had sent “approximately $423” to fund the attacks and had promised to send more.
Salic is denying the allegations against him. He told investigators that the money was for charity.