A woman who allegedly helped recruit fighters to join militants in the southern Philippine city of Marawi has been indicted on 295 counts of inciting rebellion, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.
The suspect, Karen Aizha Hamidon, is the widow of slain militant Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, who founded and led Ansarul Khilafa Philippines, one of the southern militant groups that pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State (IS), officials said.
Hamidon was arrested in October and detained by the justice ministry’s National Bureau of Investigation after authorities accused her of using social media messaging applications WhatsApp and Telegram to recruit foreign and Filipino men to fight alongside the militants in Marawi.
“[The] respondent’s acts of inciting others to commit rebellion were done by posting various messages through social media multiple times,” Acting Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan said in court documents.
Hamidon was charged with “inciting to rebellion.” If convicted, she faces up to 12 years in prison.
The justice department said it has recommended a bail of about 5.9 million pesos (U.S. $118,000) for Hamidon’s temporary release. But it dropped the more serious charge of rebellion, citing lack of merit.
Catalan cited one of Hamidon’s messages on her Telegram account, in which she invited militants to travel to the Philippines. She also advised her followers to go through the southern backdoor, noting lax security there.
Another message she posted called on “united brothers in various parts of the world,” including in East Asia, to come to the Philippines and join the fighting in the south.
Hamidon had denied all the charges against her, saying her messages were made because she was “incited” to write them by an undercover agent.
She had also insisted that she was an “Islamic missionary” who was using social media to connect with other Muslims in the region.
Hamidon – whom the justice department described as a former call-center agent and flight attendant – said she could not possibly plot against the state because her parents were government workers employed by the national police.
Husband trained under Malaysian militant
Hamidon’s husband, Maguid (alias Tokboy), was believed responsible for a string of terrorist attacks in recent years, including bombings, officials said.
Tokboy, who was wanted in the southern Philippines for a string of crimes, including robbery, extortion and arson, was a bomb expert who trained under Marwan, a Malaysian militant, officials said.
Philippine forces killed Tokboy during a January raid in the southern town of Mamasapano in which 44 police commandos also died.
Tokboy was also known to have made connections with IS fighters in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, although it was not clear if he shared his contacts with Hamidon.
He also allegedly helped militants carry out a night-market bombing in the southern city of Davao last year, killing more than a dozen people. He was also involved in a failed bid to bomb the U.S. embassy in Manila three months later, officials said.
Both attacks were blamed on members of the Maute group, a small group of fighters that eventually helped IS regional leader Isnilon Hapilon mount the Marawi attack.
Hapilon and other ranking militant leaders were killed in in a five-month battle there that killed 1,200 people, including 974 militants, and displaced the city’s 200,000 residents.
With Australian, Indian connection
The justice department said Hamidon also was an associate of Musa Cerantonio, an Australian preacher who inspired Muslims to join the IS. Australian police arrested Cerantonio and five others in May on suspicion of preparing to sail to the southern Philippines with the intent of joining an IS faction.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II earlier said a preliminary investigation pointed to Hamidon as a conspirator with the militants. He pushed for her to be charged with the higher crime of rebellion.
Hamidon also is the former wife of Muhammad Shamin bin Mohammed (alias Sidek), a Singaporean allegedly linked to IS. It was not clear, however, who she married first.
Sidek was arrested and detained in Singapore in August 2015 on suspicion of involvement in terrorist-related activities and held under the city-state’s Internal Security Act, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs.
Last month, India’s top counter-terror unit said it would seek help from the Philippines to question Hamidon, who is wanted by its National Investigation Agency (NIA) for allegedly recruiting Indians for the Middle East-based terror outfit through online platforms.
The NIA reached out to the Philippines in July 2016 after discovering that Hamidon had been in touch with more than a dozen IS suspects arrested in India through social media platforms such as Facebook, Whatsapp and Telegram, agency officials told BenarNews.
About 70 Indians are in police custody and facing trial for allegedly being IS operatives or sympathizers, officials said.