Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said yesterday the government is set to extradite to the United States (US) a Filipino physician linked to the Maute Group in Marawi City and charged with plotting attacks in New York City for the Islamic State (ISIS) last year.
Aguirre said that Dr. Russel Langi Salic, who has been in the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) since his arrest last April, will be extradited despite the pendency of the preliminary investigation against him on charges of kidnapping and murder in Lanao del Sur last year.
“We have to begin the extradition proceedings being requested by the US. We have a process to be followed and this has been done many times in the past. The preliminary investigation will continue, in the meantime,” he said in a statement.
He said the DOJ will study the options of extradition considering that Salic, 36, is facing criminal charges in the Philippines and “this is a subject of study by our state counsels.”
Salic has been accused of plotting terror attacks in the US. Specifically, US authorities have said they foiled a plot by Salic and two other terrorists to carry out attacks in New York last year.
In the Philippines, Salic has been charged with kidnapping and murder before the DOJ over the abduction and beheadings of six sawmill workers in Butig town, Lanao del Sur blamed on the Maute Group.
The cases against him were filed by five Iligan City residents identified as Gabriel Tomatao Permitis, Alfredo Sarsalejo Cano-os, Esperanza Permitis, Adonis Antipisto Mendez, and Julito Permitis Janubas.
Two other persons named as Jaymart Capangpangan and Salvador Janubas were abducted by the group of Salic in 2016 and later on beheaded.
The complainants against Salic stated that they were brought to Butig, Lanao del Sur where they were held by the Maute Group. They accused Salic as the mastermind of the group that carried out the abduction.
They also claimed that Salic talked to spouses Cayamora and Farhana Maute who have been charged with rebellion in connection with the Marawi City siege.
In the US, authorities said they disrupted a plot by Salic and two other Islamic State group sympathizers to carry out terrorist attacks at New York City locations, including concert venues, subway stations, and Times Square in the summer of 2016.
An undercover FBI agent helped thwart the jihadist plot to attack New York targets, including the city’s subway and Times Square, authorities announced.
Three people have been charged with involvement in the planned attacks, which were to be carried out in the name of the Islamic State group during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in 2016.
Malacañang confirmed that the Philippine government is inclined to grant the US request seeking the extradition of Salic.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the extradition proceedings of Salic will be initiated even while a local investigation on his alleged involvement in kidnapping and murder is ongoing.
“The Philippines shares information and extends full cooperation with partners on matters pertaining to terrorism, and in the case of Dr. Salic will include initiating extradition proceedings being requested by the US,” Abella said.
“The preliminary investigation of the case against Mr. Salic will continue while extradition proceedings are being processed,” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Salic name is a big alarm bell and the public can be sure that they will exhaust all means to get to the bottom of this and find out his other connections to terrorists.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año said the military is aware of the charges against Salic, including his supposed role in sending money through Western Union in May, 2016 to serve the purpose of purchasing suicide belts.
Año said the serious charges leveled against him in the Philippines ensured his continued detention.
Malacañang said the government is bent on combating terror threats following reports the country has allegedly become a breeding ground for terrorists.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar noted that the military operations against Islamic State-linked rebels in Marawi City are just part of the government’s anti-terror campaign.
“The suspect who said that the Philippines is a breeding ground for terrorists was arrested early this year,” Andanar said. “This government is already aggressively addressing the terror threats as you may notice in the operations that led to his (R. Salic) arrest and the battle in Marawi,” he added.