PH immigration operatives nab 2 alleged ISIS members

MANILA, Philippines – Operatives from the Bureau of Immigration (BI) arrested a foreign couple with alleged links to the Islamic State (ISIS), who could have been planning a bombing here, said the Department of Justice (DOJ).

DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and BI Commissioner Jaime Morente presented Kuwaiti national Husayn Al-Dhafiri and his supposed wife, Syrian national Rahaf Zina, at the headquarters of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Thursday, April 6.

Citing intelligence reports from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Kuwaiti government, Aguirre said Al-Dhafiri has links to terror group ISIS and is known to be involved in bomb-making.

"They were reportedly planning a bombing operation – the place we're not sure if Kuwait or Philippines. The planning may have included the Philippines because of them being here," Morente also said.

Further into the press conference, however, Aguirre admitted that authorities are only speculating "why they are here in the Philippines," while reiterating that the two are active ISIS members based on intelligence information.

"But the fact is that since nothing happened, we were able to nip whatever terror intentions they had in the bud," Aguirre said.

The BI's Fugitive Search Unit (FSU) carried out the entrapment operation on March 25 at the upscale Bonifacio Global City (BGC), in coordination with the military and the police. The DOJ explained it was the BI that took the lead because the couple's arrest was based on illegal stay charges.

Al-Dhafiri will be deported to Kuwait, while Zina would be sent back to Qatar, her last known location before she arrived in the Philippines.

Travels in PH

Morente said the couple was able to travel to Davao and Cebu last January.

"They stayed in Davao for 4 days then they came back to Manila.... I was told they also traveled to Cebu, 3 days in January this year," he said.

But Aguirre said the couple entered the Philippines from Qatar only on January 28, contradicting Morente's statements about the supposed January trips to Davao and Cebu.

Morente said Al-Dhafiri first entered the Philippines on a tourist visa but was able to secure a working visa from a company known as Q8, a recruitment firm which specializes in sending overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Kuwait.

The company has been the subject of congressional inquiries before for defrauding OFWs. It will be investigated again for helping Al-Dhafiri get a working visa.

Asked why the two suspects were able to travel repeatedly, BI Associate Commissioner Jake Licas said the couple switched to their real names, which were not known to the intelligence community.

"Husayn Al-Dhafiri is known as Abu Muslim Al-Kuwaiti, his known name as ISIS commander in Syria, so when he entered this country, he used his real name. The ISIS commander name is the one on the watch list, and we were able to receive information from our foreign counterparts only recently that this person is involved in explosives manufacturing," Licas said.

The couple will be under NBI custody while the BI processes their deportation papers.

'Success' for the BI

Aguirre hailed the apprehension as a success that "speaks well of the competence and of the dedication of our immigration personnel."

This comes amid the dispute over the overtime pay and salary augmentation of BI employees.

Before coming to the press conference, Aguirre and Morente were in a meeting with Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to discuss the salary woes.

The BI and DOJ are in a deadlock with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), with Diokno standing firm that the BI can no longer use the express lane fund for overtime pay and to augment employees' salaries.

Aguirre refused to give details of that meeting. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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