A Catholic convert to Islam known for working to recruit Australians and other Westerners to the cause of jihad has been arrested in the Philippines, after Australian authorities worried he may have already reached Syria.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Musa Cerantonio, a jihadist with reported ties to the Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, ISIS) was arrested in the Philippines after he had tweeted that he had arrived in “al-Sham,” which is believed to have likely been Syria. It is not yet clear whether he ever made it to the Middle East, as he was arrested in the Philippines with a Filipino woman shortly after that tweet, with little time for him to have made it back to the Philippines had he left.
The capture of Cerantonio is a significant event for Australian law enforcement, as they considered him “one of the top two influential jihadist ‘inspirations’ for fighters in Iraq and Syria.” Like many of ISIS’s recruits, Cerantonio was well-versed in using social media to promote the message of jihad, particularly Facebook and Twitter. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Cerantonio had more than 12,000 likes on his Facebook page before the website shut him down due to violations of terms of service involving the promotion of violence.
Cerantonio is exclusively in Filipino custody for now, however, though Australian authorities noted that it is possible he may be extradited to Australia, as the warrant used for his arrest was requested by the Australian government. “The arrest was based on a plain and simple serving of warrant of deportation issued by the Bureau of Immigration,” explained Senior Superintendent of Police Conrado Capa.
Reports indicate that Cerantonio will not speak to police and elaborate on his dealings in the Middle East. Police believe that, while he may not have made it to Syria, he traveled back and forth between the Philippines and Egypt during his fugitive state. Cerantonio made his first public appearance in Filipino police custody this weekend, wearing a white hood and walking with police after he allegedly refused to answer any questions.
Australia has been one of the main targets of recruiting for ISIS in the past several years. It is estimated that between 150 and 300 Australian citizens are fighting in Iraq and Syria for the jihadist terror group, prompting Prime Minister Tony Abbott to vow to work hard to keep Australian jihadists from returning to their home turf. “The important thing is to ensure that, as far as is humanly possible, they don’t come back into our country… And if they do come back into our country, they are taken into detention because what we can’t have is trained killers — who hate our way of life, who hate us — making mischief with the potential to cause mayhem in our country,” Abbott told Sydney radio station 2GB.