MANILA, Philippines — U.S. and Kuwaiti security officials helped Philippine authorities identify and arrest a Middle Eastern couple with suspected links to the Islamic State group who may have been planning bomb attacks, Filipino officials said Friday.
Philippine army intelligence agents, along with police and immigration authorities, arrested Hussein Aldhafiri and Rahaf Zina Dhafiri late last month in an upscale commercial district in Taguig city in metropolitan Manila. Their arrests were not announced until late Thursday, when the handcuffed suspects were presented to reporters but not allowed to speak.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the arrests were kept private to allow Philippine authorities to identify the pair's local contacts and avoid the risk of their capture prompting possible accomplices to advance any planned attack. He said information provided by the U.S. and Kuwait made the arrests possible.
"I believe since nothing happened, we were able to nip whatever terrorist intention they have in the bud," Aguirre said at a news conference in Manila.
Aldhafiri, a 40-year-old Kuwaiti, allegedly was an Islamic State group bomb maker who was helping plot attacks in Kuwait and possibly in the Philippines, Aguirre and other officials said, citing information provided by Kuwait. As he was led away at Thursday's announcement, Aldhafiri said he needed a lawyer.
Aldhafiri, who last entered the Philippines in January, first travelled to the country last year as a tourist and later got a work visa. Officials said the Kuwaiti government plans to cancel his passport to allow the Philippines to deport him. They said he would most likely face terrorism charges in his country.
Dhafiri, a 27-year-old Syrian, was reportedly the widow of a top Islamic State group commander in Syria and later became Aldhafiri's partner. After her arrest, she told authorities that she was pregnant and she was sent to a hospital. She will likely be deported to Qatar, where she last came from before flying to Manila, Philippine Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said.
Earlier this year, the couple travelled to southern Davao city, President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown, and the central city of Cebu, staying for a few days in each city, Morente said.
Aguirre said the two have had no known contact with Filipino Muslim militants.
A number of radical Islamic armed groups in the country's south, including some commanders of the brutal Abu Sayyaf group, has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in recent years in a bid to secure funds and training and project an image of strength and relevance amid years of battle setbacks, the military says.
The Associated Press