US seeks extradition of Filipino suspect in terror plot

MANILA • A Filipino suspect in a thwarted terror plot targeting New York's subway and Times Square will face legal proceedings seeking his extradition to the United States, the Philippine Justice Secretary said yesterday.

Russell Salic and two others have been charged with involvement in the plan to stage the attacks in the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last year.

Salic was arrested in the Philippines in April this year and Washington had requested his extradition, the US Department of Justice said.

"It only means that we have to begin the extradition proceedings being requested," Philippine Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said, without giving a timeframe.

Military chief Eduardo Ano said yesterday that Salic is in the custody of the Philippines' National Bureau of Investigation.

Salic, a 37-year-old orthopaedic surgeon with a hospital in the southern Philippine city of Cagayan de Oro, transferred US$423 (S$580) in May last year to the other suspects to help fund the operation, according to US court documents.

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 Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, according to the US authorities.

The agent posed as an ISIS 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.

Boasting that his country was "a breeding ground for terrorists", Salic had sent messages to others involved in the plot describing terror laws in the Philippines as "not strict" compared with those in countries such as Australia and Britain.

Yesterday, General Ano said Salic had sent funds to other nations for the ISIS terrorist network.

"He is providing financial support to several extremists or suspicious terrorists in the Middle East, in the US, Malaysia," said Gen Ano. "He was very active on social media, websites that groups related to ISIS have been using."

Salic is also under investigation in the Philippines over kidnapping and murder charges, and those probes will continue pending a decision on the extradition proceedings, the presidential palace said.

The restive south of the mainly Catholic nation is home to a decades-old Muslim separatist insurgency and to extremist gangs that have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Armed militants have been besieging the southern city of Marawi since May, leaving more than 950 people dead. The fighting, which is still raging, has left the once-thriving city in ruins and thousands of civilians displaced.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2017, with the headline 'US seeks extradition of Filipino suspect in terror plot'. Print Edition | Subscribe