ISLAMIC State (IS) financier Russell Langi Salic supported the Maute group that attacked Marawi City, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Monday.
This was confirmed by Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., spokesman for the AFP, as he clarified that Salic was not related to former Marawi mayor Omar Solitario Salic, also a Maute supporter.
“He (Russell Salic) is believed to be providing funds and materials to the Maute terrorists and he has a nickname ‘Doctor’…He does not have any relationship with the former Marawi mayor. Our investigation is still ongoing,” Padilla told dzMM radio, in Filipino.
Salic, 37, has been under the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation since he surrendered to authorities in April, the military said.
Padilla admitted that the Philippines had become a “breeding ground” for terrorists, noting that the country’s anti-terrorism laws were less strict compared with those of other countries.
“It is true that the Philippines is becoming a breeding ground [for terrorists]because our law against terrorism is less strict. In Singapore and Malaysia, their legislations against terrorism are strong,” he said.
Salic, an orthopedic surgeon based in Cagayan de Oro City, has been charged by the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) for financing a plot to bomb New York City last year. The AFP said Salic’s activities had been monitored since 2014.
He is accused of wiring $423 to the US to help fund the plot.
Salic, the US DoJ said, told an undercover FBI agent posing as an IS member that terrorists all over the world have been coming over to the Philippines to train and recruit terrorists.
Salic is also under investigation over his alleged involvement in the kidnapping and beheading of two sawmill workers in April 2016 in Butig, Lanao del Sur, which the military had blamed on the Maute group.
Four other sawmill workers were set free and told authorities they saw Salic in the Maute camp where they were detained, senior assistant state prosecutor Peter Ong told Agence France-Press.
“The complainants said they saw him in an adjacent room full of guns. He was cleaning guns,” Ong said, quoting from the workers’ depositions.
Salic had denied the allegation and said he was in another province then, according to Ong, who is handling the investigation and has yet to decide whether to charge Salic in court.
‘So much democratic space’
AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año echoed his spokesman, saying that the Philippines had enjoyed “so much democratic space” that allowed terrorist groups to operate and expand membership.
“That is true because you know, the country enjoys so much democratic space that [it]is being exploited by terror groups and also criminal groups, unlike in other countries like Singapore, US, Malaysia and Australia. They have a very strict internal security act,” Año told reporters in a news briefing.