Cagayan de Oro doctor funded plan to attack Times Square, subway in 2016
AN orthopedic surgeon based in Cagayan de Oro City has been charged by the US government for financing a foiled Islamic State (IS) plot to bomb New York City’s Times Square and subway system.
Russell Langi Salic, 37, who had previously been linked to the Maute group, was accused of conspiring with a Canadian and a US citizen in Pakistan to carry out bomb attacks in New York during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in 2016, according to the charges unsealed by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) on Friday (Saturday in Manila).
An undercover agent of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) came into contact with all three and thwarted the planned attack, authorities said.
“The planned attacks included detonating bombs in Times Square and the New York City subway system and shooting civilians at specific concert venues,” the US DoJ said in a statement.
Salic, said to be associated with the Northern Mindanao Medical Center in Cagayan de Oro, was known as “Abu Khalid” and “The Doctor” to jihadists.
On Facebook, he was “James Klein,” and used the social media account to post content supportive of IS terror attacks around the world.
Salic sent $423.80 from a Western Union outlet in Cagayan de Oro to the undercover agent on May 11, 2016, think ing the latter was helping carry out the planned attack, the US DOJ said.
He said he would send more money to support IS terror attacks, telling the undercover agent, “In Sha Allah once we have the blessings again we will distribute again.”
The 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris and another on the metro in Belgium the following year served as inspiration for the planned killings in New York.
Those attacks were both claimed by IS, a brutal militant group that seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and has inspired a series of deadly attacks abroad.
Salic and his co-conspirators are facing 15 years to life in prison for conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to bomb a place of public use and public transportation system, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and related criminal charges.
Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, a 19-year-old Canadian who purchased bombmaking materials and was arrested after traveling to the US, has pled guilty to “terrorism offenses,” the statement said.
Talha Haroon, a 19-year-old American citizen living in Pakistan, allegedly planned to take part in the attacks.
Haroon was arrested in Pakistan in September 2016 and Salic in April 2017, and their extradition to the US is pending.
“El Bahnasawy and Haroon identified multiple locations and events in and around New York City as targets of the planned attacks, including the New York City subway system, Times Square and certain concert venues,” the statement said.
El Bahnasawy sent the undercover FBI agent an image of Times Square, saying that “we seriously need a car bomb” to attack it and that he wanted to “shoot up concerts cuz they kill a lot of people.”
Haroon told the agent that the subway would make a “perfect” target, and that suicide vests could be detonated after the attackers expended their ammunition.
New York was the target of the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and led the US to launch an open-ended “war on terror” that included invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and military operations in a number of other countries.
These operations led, directly and indirectly, to tens of thousands of deaths, and cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars.
The most recent attack in New York occurred in September 2016, when a pressure cooker bomb exploded in the Chelsea neighborhood, wounding 29 people.
‘Desperate to go to Syria’
Salic also began communicating with the FBI agent, eventually sending more than $400 to fund the attacks.
“El Bahnasawy further informed the [undercover agent]that Salic was a trusted ISIS supporter who had provided funding in support of ISIS on prior occasions,” the US DoJ said, using another acronym for IS.
Salic was said to have maintained an active pro-IS social media presence and had expressed allegiance to the jihadist group.
“For example, on May 9, 2016, Salic informed the [undercover agent]that he was ‘desperate’ to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Salic also expressed his belief that he could safely send money to support the [New York attacks] from the Philippines, where he claimed to be at the time, without attracting law enforcement scrutiny,” the US DoJ said.
Salic boasted of his “public figure” status to the undercover agent, sending the following message: “[I]ts not strict here. Unli[k]e in Aus (Australia) or Uk (the United Kingdom) even liking FB (Facebook) status will put u in jail . . . Terrorists from all over the world usually come here as a breeding ground for terrorists . . . hahahaha . . . But no worry here in Philippines. They dont care bout IS [ISIS]..loll[.] Only in west.”
KL nightclub blast
It was not the first time Salic sent money to finance jihadist bomb plots – the US DoJ said the he sent money to Malaysia, Australia, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Bosnia between February 2015 and June 2016, with the amounts ranging from $180 to $583.
The US DoJ said Salic sent $426.30 to Jasanizam Bin Rosni in Johor, Malaysia on June 24, 2016.
Four days later, a Kuala Lumpur nightclub was hit by a grenade attack, for which Rosni and others were arrested. Eight people were injured in the blast.
“I believe that the Malaysia transfer (of funds)…is consistent with the statement of Abu Khalid indicating that he was involved in funding not only the [New York City plot], but also the activities of other [IS] supporters in other countries,” an FBI agent said in a report.
In August, Salic faced a preliminary investigation at the Philippines’ Justice department for kidnapping and murder in connection with the abduction of sawmill workers in Iligan City in April 2016.
Two of the workers were beheaded by Salic’s associates who identified themselves as IS fighters.
Five workers who survived the incident filed the charges against Salic.