New York plot suspect to fight extradition from Philippines

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 11 2017 02:02 AM

Russell Salic, 37, handcuffed, is escorted by a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agent after attending a hearing at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Metro Manila on Tuesday. Reuters/Stringer

A Filipino doctor accused of wiring money for a foiled jihadist plot targeting New York's subway and Times Square rejects the allegations and has vowed to fight US extradition, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Russell Salic and two others have been charged with involvement in the plan to stage the attacks in the name of the Islamic State group during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2016. 

On Tuesday, his lawyer said Salic, a 37-year-old Muslim orthopaedic surgeon who trained at a government hospital in the southern Philippines, had no connection with terrorist activities and groups.

"He even said that he is mad at terrorist activities. He said that in Islam, terrorism is prohibited. He is a devout Muslim. He is praying five times a day," lawyer Dalomilang Parahiman told AFP. 

Salic is accused of transferring $423 in May 2016 to the other suspects to help fund a thwarted operation that was planned through internet messaging applications, according to the US Justice Department. 

New York's subway, Times Square and some concert venues were identified as targets in the plot that was monitored by an undercover FBI agent posing as a fellow jihadist, US authorities said.

His lawyer said Salic voluntarily surrendered to Filipino authorities in April, contradicting the US government's statement that he was arrested.

A Manila court will next week hear the US extradition request for Salic that was filed by the Philippine government, state prosecutors told AFP.

They expect the legal proceedings to last less than a year.

"Yes, of course he would (contest it). He is innocent," Parahiman said. "They (wove) stories to link the person" to the plot, he added. 

The undercover agent said in a sworn statement that the FBI had monitored several social media accounts which he believed to be Salic's, in which the doctor posted content "supportive of" IS, religious war and terrorist activities.

- A 'silent guy' -

But Parahiman said Salic was not in control of his social media account at the time.

"According to the doctor, his (social media) account was hacked. It took him several weeks before he recovered the account."

On Monday the Philippine military accused Salic of having ties to pro-IS militants who attacked the southern city of Marawi, and of funding terrorists in the United States, the Middle East and Malaysia. 

Salic's lawyer said his client only gave money to unspecified individuals and a charitable group for "humanitarian considerations". 

"He just took pity at these people because he was a bachelor and did not have many expenses. He just wanted to help them," Parahiman said.

The chief of the government hospital in Cagayan de Oro city where Salic worked as a resident physician and trained as an orthopaedic surgeon expressed surprise at the allegations.

"I can't believe it because I can't imagine doctors would be involved in those kinds of activities," Northern Mindanao Medical Centre chief Jose Chan told AFP, adding that co-workers shared his sentiment.

"He is a silent guy. He gets along well with other doctors in the department or other doctors in the other departments, just like any other resident in the hospital," Chan said.

The hospital chief also said he knew nothing of the personal life or religious beliefs of Salic, who completed his residency in April last year.