Philippine police and army troops have arrested an Arab man they believe was a former commander of the Islamic State group along the Syria and Turkey border in a raid on a Manila apartment, where they found bomb-making materials and an IS-style flag, the national police chief said Monday.
Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa said Fehmi Lassoued, who is reportedly from Egypt, and his Filipina companion, Anabel Moncera Salipada, were arrested last week based on intelligence provided by foreign counterparts.
He said investigators were looking into possible links between the two suspects and local and foreign militant groups, and whether they were involved in any terrorist activity.
Dela Rosa said at a news conference that Lassoued has a fake Tunisian passport and may be a militant recruiter, but did not offer any evidence.
Clad in an orange detainee shirt, handcuffed and held on both sides by soldiers, Lassoued stood with his head often bowed in front of a table where bomb-making parts and other evidence were displayed at the news conference.
Salipada is from the southern town of Upi in Maguindanao province, where Muslim militants operate, according to her identity card.
Lassoued apparently entered the Philippines in July 2016 from Iran using a fake passport which Philippine immigration personnel failed to detect, dela Rosa said, adding that he traveled to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and the Turkish city of Istanbul from 2016 to 2017.
Investigators were also trying to determine if Lassoued was involved in a siege by hundreds of Islamic State group-aligned militants on the southern Islamic city of Marawi last year, dela Rosa said. The five-month uprising left more than 1,100 combatants dead, mostly Muslim militants, and displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers before troops crushed it with ground assaults and airstrikes.
The Marawi siege, which was joined by several Indonesian, Malaysian and Arab militants, reinforced fears that the Islamic State group was gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia following battle setbacks in Syria and Iraq.