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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Philippines 'breeding ground for terrorists', says NY plotter

Russell Salic — a doctor who previously treated pro-ISIL militants in the Philippines — and two others have been charged with involvement in the plan to carry out the attacks in the name of ISIL

A Filipino soldier lies on a mattress in a house as government troops continued their assault against insurgents from the Maute Group in Marawi city on July 1, 2017. A Filipino suspect in a thwarted jihadist plot targeting New York City had boasted that his country was "a breeding ground for terrorists". Jorge Silva / Reuters
A Filipino soldier lies on a mattress in a house as government troops continued their assault against insurgents from the Maute Group in Marawi city on July 1, 2017. A Filipino suspect in a thwarted jihadist plot targeting New York City had boasted that his country was "a breeding ground for terrorists". Jorge Silva / Reuters

A Filipino suspect in a thwarted jihadist plot targeting New York City had boasted that his country was "a breeding ground for terrorists", the US Justice Department said.

Russell Salic — a doctor who previously treated pro-ISIL militants in the Philippines — and two others have been charged with involvement in the plan to carry out the attacks in the name of ISIL in 2016.

A Justice Department statement said on Saturday that 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 on Friday.

The agent posed as an ISIL 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.

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Read more: Battle of Marawi proves struggle for Philippines's seasoned troops

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Meanwhile, the Philippines military said that Salic had links to the Maute Group, which since May had been occupying parts of the country's most important Islamic city of Marawi in a bid to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia.

"He was among those who were treating wounded members of the Maute Group," military spokesman Col Edgard Arevalo told AFP.

Another military spokesman, Maj Gen Restituto Padilla, told reporters Salic had performed these tasks in visits to Maute training camps before the Marawi attack.

"That's why his nom de guerre or nickname, based on our information, was 'Doc' or 'Doctor,'" Gen Padilla added.

Salic was arrested in the Philippines in April 2017.

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 ISIL in the past. Armed militants flying the black ISIL 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, air strikes and US military assistance, has left the once-thriving city in ruins with thousands of civilians displaced.

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