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Australian Islamic preacher arrested in Philippines over alleged Isis links | World news |

An Australian Islamic preacher suspected of rallying support for Isis militants in Syria has been arrested in the Philippines, where he has been preaching radical Islam and recruiting militants since February, according to Australian police.

Melbourne-native Robert Cerantonio, 29, who goes by the alias of Musa, was arrested on Friday morning in Lapu-Lapu city on the island of Cebu in the central Philippines, along with a Filipina woman and Filipino man, a stack of different currencies, SIM cards, mobile phones and his passport.

“He has been literally calling for jihad,” a senior police intelligence official told Reuters. “He has been recruiting Filipino Muslims to fight in Iraq and Syria.”

Australian federal police had been reportedly tracking Cerantonio for months and are likely to deport him back to Australia for full questioning. His arrest is a major boon for the intelligence community as it is the first known link between Islamist militants in the Philippines and foreign jihadists who support conflicts in the Middle East.

Cerantonio is considered by terrorism experts to be one of the world’s most influential “inspirations” for militants in Syria and Iraq, according to Australian media. Police said Cerantonio had given lectures in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) in Basilan and Sulu, two southern Philippine provinces where Filipino Muslim extremists operate, and that he may have been involved in distributing an online video showing what appear to be militant Filipino prisoners inside a jail supporting Isis.

According to Philippine media, the prison is a high-risk detention facility housing members of various extremist groups, including Abu Sayyaf, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the New People’s army.

Filipino Muslims have a history of taking part in conflict in the Middle East, with some militants fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Cerantonio has a huge online following and is suspected of using social media to recruit militants and urge Muslims to kill western leaders. YouTube videos show Cerantonio calling for jihad and in one video posted on his own website, he calls for “brother Muslims” to join in the war in Iraq and Syria, according to AFP senior Supt Conrad Capa.

He also seemingly knew that he was being watched by authorities. In one recent tweet he attempted to put authorities off his trail, saying: “Al-Hamdulillah I have arrived in the land of Khilafah in Ash-Sham! May Allah honour all Muslims during this blessed time in His obedience,” — indicating that he was in Syria or Iraq.

In another posting on Facebook, he baited police by writing: “Have fun finding me. I’ll be waiting for you or whichever dogs you send,” Australian media reported. Filipino analysts called Cerantonio’s arrest proof that the threat of extremism in the Philippines is “real, rather than imagined”.

“The two videos showing a few Muslims in the Philippines expressing allegiance to Isis with the use of the Black Flag demonstrates that Isis’ threat to Philippine security is real rather than imagined,” wrote Rommel Banlaoi on the online news portal Banlaoi heads the Centre for Intellegence National Security Studies (CINSS) of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

“The so-called Black Flag movement is very active in the Philippines … [and] seems to be the unifying factor among violent extremist groups operating in the Philippines. Isis’ use of the Black Flag resonates strongly in the Philippines.”

Australia recently listed Isis along with the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (Isil) as a terrorist organisation and warned that those who have fought with or financially support a listed terrorist group can be jailed for up to 25 years.

“Listing the Islamic State reinforces the government’s strong message to those Australians who may wish to participate in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq … that their activities may be subject to offences with significant penalties,” said Australian attorney general George Brandis.

Foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop said Cerantonio’s arrest indicated a real push by Australia to prevent terrorism from spreading.

“We are determined to ensure that Australians do not leave this country to take up fighting in another country, become radicalised and then return to Australia with these new skills and extremist outlooks,” she told reporters.

via Australian Islamic preacher arrested in Philippines over alleged Isis links | World news |


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