MANILA, Philippines — National Bureau of Investigation agents have arrested a woman who tried to spread radical ideas and recruit hundreds of foreigners to reinforce pro-Islamic State rebels led by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups occupying Marawi City, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitataliano Aguirre II said Wednesday.
The DOJ chief said 36-year-old Karen Aizha Hamidon, the widow of a former leader of a small extremist group in Mindanao, was arrested at her home in Taguig City a week ago and has been charged with 14 counts of inciting to rebellion or insurrection and violation of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
Hamidon allegedly used social media and messaging apps to call on foreigners to join the siege of Marawi, a battle that has lasted nearly five months.
The military says the conflict, the biggest security crisis in years in the Philippines, is now in its final stages and has killed more than 1,000 people, mostly rebels including Omarkhayam Maute, his brothers, and the so-called ISIS emir in Southeast Asia Isnilon Hapilon.
Aguirre said Hamidon’s arrest “is a welcome development in the fight against terrorism.”
Agents found Hamidon had made 296 posts in chatrooms on Telegram and WhatsApp “calling on Muslims in the Philippines, India and Singapore to come to Marawi to establish a province of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”, the DOJ chief said.
There were also about 250 names, mostly foreigners, in her phonebook, who were suspected of being Islamic State sympathizers.
Dressed in a black burqa, Hamidon was paraded before the media but was not allowed to speak. Her laptop, mobile phones, and electronic gadgets were being looked at by experts for forensic investigation.
Hamidon, a Muslim convert, was married to Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, alias Tokboy, the top leader of the pro-ISIS Ansar Al-Khilafa based in the Philippines, among the groups responsible for terrorist attacks in Southern Mindanao. Maguid was killed in a gunfight with police in Sarangani on January 5 this year.
She also allegedly became the wife of Singaporean security guard Muhammad Shamin Mohamed Sidek, who was detained in 2015 after making pro-ISIS Facebook posts inciting readers to religious violence. Hamidon is also said to be close to Musa Cerantino, an Australian jihadi extremist and ISIS supporter.
Aguirre said she was also linked to Singaporean and Australian extremists, both of whom are in detention in their countries.
But counter-terrorism expert Sidney Jones cast doubts about whether Hamidon had been effective. Jones said her presence in chatrooms of Islamic State supporters was not welcomed, her credibility had been questioned and some participants blamed her for the arrests of radicals.
“Everyone hates her and thinks she’s a spy,” Jones said.
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