Philippine security forces have arrested a foreigner suspected of recruiting domestic fighters for pro-Islamic State militant groups, including an alliance that occupied a southern city for five months last year, police said on Monday (Feb 19).
Director-General Ronald dela Rosa paraded before the media Fehmi Lassoued and his Filipino girlfriend, Anabel Salipada, three days after they were arrested in a rented apartment a few blocks away from the US embassy in Manila, the capital.
“A thorough investigation is now underway to determine the extent of their involvement with international and domestic threat groups,” dela Rosa said, adding that an undisclosed foreign intelligence ally gave details of Lassoued’s identity and activities.
Police also displayed handguns, ammunition and components for making improvised explosive devices and an Islamic State black flag, which were confiscated from Lassoued and Salipada.
“Most likely, he is here with the intention to recruit ISIS sympathisers in Mindanao,” dela Rosa said, using another acronym for Islamic State.
He said Lassoued has been travelling to Malaysia, the Philippines and Turkey in the last two years and first arrived in Manila in June 2016 on a Tunisian passport, which was found to be fake.
Lassoued was born in the United Arab Emirates and is of Libyan and Tunisian descent but lived in Syria for many years, he added.
The suspect may have helped recruit for the pro-Islamic State Maute group, which led a siege of southern Marawi City last year, he added.
Appearing before a prosecutor, Lassoued denied the police allegations. He said he had fled Syria as Islamic State militants sought to establish a foothold there.