Philippine Police: Hamas Plot to Attack Foreigners Uncovered

Jeoffrey Maitem
2022.02.15
Cotabato, Philippines
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Philippine Police: Hamas Plot to Attack Foreigners Uncovered Palestinian workers use backhoes to break and remove parts of the Al-Jawhara building, which was damaged by Israeli airstrikes during Israel's war with Gaza's Hamas rulers in May 2021, in the central al-Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, Dec. 23, 2021.
AP Photo

Updated at 2:09 p.m. ET on 2022-02-15

Philippine police uncovered a plot by the Palestinian militant group Hamas to recruit Filipinos for attacks against foreign nationals in the Southeast Asian country, an official said Tuesday. 

An unnamed Filipino informant revealed information about several meetings he had in Malaysia from 2016 to 2018 with a senior Hamas operative, where they discussed the possibility of attacking Israeli citizens in the Philippines, the director of the intelligence unit at the Philippine National Police said in a statement.

“Our Filipino source identified the Hamas operative as ‘Bashir’ who was reportedly attempting to establish a foothold in the Philippines with pledges of financial support to some local threat groups including militant extremists with links to the international terrorist organizations,” Brig. Gen. Neil Alinsangan said. 

Information sharing and coordination with foreign counterparts revealed that Bashir is Fares Al Shikli, allegedly the head of Hamas’ foreign liaison section, Alinsangan said.

Al Shikli is on the Interpol’s Red Notice list and has been charged with logistics support for terrorism, he said. A red notice means that Interpol has alerted law enforcement agencies worldwide about a wanted person. 

The source told police he met with Al Shikli in Malaysia “to discuss the possibility of mounting attacks against Israeli nationals in the country in exchange for financial assistance by Hamas,” Alinsangan said, referring to attacks in the Philippines.  

“Fares Al Shikli started grooming the source in 2016 as a local contact in the Philippines and introduced to him theoretical bomb-making training in one of their meetings in Malaysia,” he said. 

The Malaysian government has maintained relationships with Hamas. In 2020, then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed welcomed Ismail Haniyeh to Putrajaya during the Hamas leader’s first official trip to Malaysia since taking power in 2017.

Two years earlier, gunmen on a motorcycle killed a Palestinian engineer who held Malaysian permanent residence status as he walked to a mosque for dawn prayers. On its website, Hamas described him as a member. Media reports at the time said Hamas and the man’s widow blamed Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, of being involved in the killing.

Recruitment efforts

Meanwhile, the Filipino source told investigators that Al Shikli told him about plans to recruit Filipino militants with links to terrorist organizations here for the purpose of targeting Jews in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic nation, the intelligence group said. 

In January 2018, intelligence operatives in the Philippines arrested an Iraqi man identified as Taha Mohamed Al-Jabouri, a chemist and bomb maker who had eluded police in the past. Al-Jabouri confessed that “he served as a consultant” for the Hamas organization in Syria before relocating to Turkey sometime in 2012. 

Previously, police said they foiled a potential attack in November 2016 after discovering an improvised bomb near the U.S. Embassy in Manila. The bomb plot was blamed on the Maute group, whose leaders would go on to help lead the siege of the southern city of Marawi by pro-Islamic State militants in May 2017.

The five-month siege and a battle with government forces that ensued, left 1,200 militants, government forces and civilians dead.

Also in May 2017, police placed the crowded Quiapo district in Manila under lockdown after two improvised bombs exploded within hours near the Muslim center, killing two people. It was not clear who was behind the attack and police have said little about the case. 

While it remains unclear if the Hamas had connections with the groups behind the Marawi siege, foreign militants were involved and have established links with Filipino Muslim radicals, officials said.

It also was not immediately clear what happened after the 2018 meetings in Malaysia and whether the Hamas threat remains active in the Philippines.

“This is a stern warning to all terroristic groups who plan to conduct recruitment and similar activities in the country, we have a way to know you and you cannot do your plans here because the police and military, through the active support of the community, are working together to pre-empt your devious plans,” Alinsangan said. 

Alinsangan did not offer additional comments when contacted by BenarNews. Military officials did not comment as well.  

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