ZAMBOANGA CITY: Officials are investigating a failed assassination attempt on two Saudi Arabian men–a diplomat and an Islamic scholar who previously called a jihad against American forces in Iraq and Israel.
The victims were Sheikh Turki Assaegh, a religious attaché of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Manila and Sheikh Dr. Aaidh ibn Abdullah al-Qarni.
They were shot and wounded late Tuesday during a forum at the Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga City.
Senior Inspector Helen Galvez, a police spokeswoman, said the victims were rushed to hospital.
The gunman—Misuari 3rd— was killed by security men while trying to flee after shooting the two Saudi Arabian lecturers, who were speaking to a huge crowd, mostly Filipino Muslims.
A university uniform, a student driver’s license and a local government ID were recovered from the man, which identified him as a 21-year-old Filipino, but police said they were not ruling out forgery.
It was unknown how the gunman managed to sneak the gun he used in attacking al-Qarni and Assaegh.
Galvez said the two men were shot with a .45-caliber pistol.
“It all happened so fast. Suddenly there were gunshots,” local Muslim community leader Wakil Kasim, who was at the auditorium at the time of the incident, said.
Qarni was shot in the right shoulder, left arm and chest while Assaegh was wounded in his right thigh and left leg, according to a police report.
Both victims were immediately evacuated to Manila in a private Saudi Arabian plane.
Two men—Junaide Saleh and Mujer Abubakar—were taken into police custody after they scaled the university wall and tried to escape after the shooting.
They were being investigated for their possible involvement in the attack.
Mayor Beng Climaco said the Ulama Council of Zamboanga Peninsula organized the Islamic symposium.
“I ordered the police to thoroughly investigate the shooting and its motive,” she added.
According to a 2012 report by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, al-Qarni was blocked by the Department of Homeland Security in the United States from attending a national Islamist conference in Chicago.
It said the 57-year-old al-Qarni was removed from his flight from Saudi Arabia despite having a visa from the US Embassy.
Al-Qarni, the report said, had advocated jihad in the past and that his preaching on the subject has been described as influential among al-Qaeda followers.
The report also said that during a 2005 sermon flagged by the Middle East Media Research Institute, al-Qarni called the jihad against American forces in Fallujah “a source of pride . . . downing their planes, destroying equipment, slaughtering them, taking them hostage . . . ,” and proclaiming “Allahu Akhbar” from the mosques, and the worshippers and the preacher cursing them in their prayers.
It said al-Qarni belittled Muslims who failed to take action, including “harming the Jews.”
He invoked Israel’s targeted killings of Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, saying he prayed that Allah “will destroy the Jews and their helpers from among the Christians and the Communists, and that He will turn them into the Muslims’ spoils.”
“Throats must be slit and skulls must be shattered,” al-Qarni said. “This is the path to victory, to shahada, and to sacrifice.”
There was no immediate statement from the Saudi Arabian Embassy on the daring attack.
Islamic State militants who control vast swathes of Iraq and Syria had called on “lone wolves” to attack Qarni and several other Saudi clerics whom they accused of apostasy in the latest issue of Dabiq, their monthly online magazine.
‘Unspecified threat’ to Saudi Embassy
The Philippine government should investigate whether the Islamic State (IS) group had influenced the shooting, international security analyst Stephen Cutler told reporters in Manila.
“It’s possible it is Daesh-related because he was on this hit list but I don’t know yet,” the American said, using an Arabic abbreviation for the IS group.
Tuesday’s shooting also came as the Philippine Army quelled a rampage by an obscure armed group that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Butig, a farming town some 200 kilometers northeast of Zamboanga.
Philippine authorities, however, have not linked sympathizers of Islamic State jihadists to Tuesday’s attack.
Saudi Arabian media outlets described Qarni as a senior Islamic scholar and he has more than 12 million followers on Twitter.
In his book “Awakening Islam,” the French academic Stephane Lacroix included Qarni in his list of “the most famous” Saudi preachers.
Last week, the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Manila asked local police for increased security for its premises, as well as for the Saudi Arabian national airline because of an unspecified threat, Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.