MANILA, PHILIPPINES — A Filipino doctor accused of wiring money for a foiled New York terrorist plot appeared in court on Tuesday (Nov 7) to fight extradition to the United States.
Russell Salic, a 37-year-old orthopaedic surgeon, denied these allegations, claiming that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its sympathisers took control of his online accounts after he “condemned” them in 2015.
“This group was able to ‘HACK’ my FB (Facebook) account and my email address account,” he said in a statement submitted to the court by his lawyer last month, which was obtained by AFP on Nov 7.
Salic has been charged for his involvement in the plan to detonate bombs in Times Square and the New York subway and shoot at civilians at concert venues in the name of ISIS during the month of Ramadan last year. Two other men were accused of conspiring with him via messaging applications.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has accused Salic of transferring US$423 last May to fund the thwarted plot.
According to the DOJ, the plot was monitored by an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent posing as a fellow extremist.
Salic told the agent he would “(pray) to Allah for the success of the operation”, describing New York as the capital of disbelievers.
“It would be a great pleasure if we can slaughter” people in New York, he was quoted telling the agent.
“It is the hope and expectation of this Office and US law enforcement that they will be extradited to the United States to face justice in a United States court,” said the DOJ in a press release dated Oct 6.
No links to ISIS?
But Salic’s lawyer, Dalomilang Parahiman, insisted his client had no ties to any terrorist activities or 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,” said Parahiman.
Salic voluntarily surrendered to Filipino authorities in April. He is currently in the custody of the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation.
“Yes, of course he would. He is innocent,” said Parahiman. “They weaved stories to link the person to the plot.”
Medical staff at a hospital in Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao, Philippines, where Salic worked, were shocked to find out about the allegations against him.
“I knew him when he was here, he was kind, generous, and a regular guy,” said a doctor, who declined to be named. “I would never suspect him to be a supporter of a terrorist organization. He is not that kind of person.”
Another colleague said he had no idea that Salic had been detained.
“I thought he moved to another hospital after completing his residency,” he said.
Salic, who had his first extradition hearing on Tuesday, said in his deposition that he had donated money to international organisations helping war victims and clubfoot patients as well as an aid group in Malaysia for the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar.
“I got into trouble because of my desire to help needy people, not terrorist(s). Modesty aside, I am by nature a good man,” his statement said.
Christopher Cardani, the US Department of Justice attache in Manila, said Washington was working with local authorities to have Salic extradited “as soon as possible”.
“We look forward to giving him that day, that he will be given an opportunity to state his case before an American jury. This is an extremely important matter to the United States,” he said.