An Australian imam has been arrested in the central Philippines on suspicion of links to local Muslim fighters and rallying support for rebels in Syria, police say.
Robert Cerantonio, alias Musa, was lecturing Muslim Filipinos to support the Islamic State group that controls parts of Iraq and Syria, police said.
Chief Superintendent Prudencio Tom Banas said that Cerantonio and a Filipino woman were arrested in their rented apartment in Cebu province’s Lapu-Lapu city.
Police and immigration agents raided the apartment on the basis of a deportation warrant calling Cerantonio a “person of interest to the intelligence community”.
Cerantonio did not speak to media while being escorted to the custody of the immigration bureau in Manila. The woman was taken by police for questioning.
A senior police official said Cerantonio was monitored giving lectures on the need to support the Islamic State group in Basilan and Sulu, two southern Philippine provinces with Filipino Muslims.
Video shows support
The official said authorities were also looking into the possible involvement of Cerantonio in the circulation of an online video showing prisoners inside what appears to be a Manila penitentiary airing their full support to the Islamic State group.
The video was apparently shot inside a prison holding hundreds of Muslim Filipino inmates, including members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group from the southern Philippines.
Cerantonio is suspected of using social media to recruit supporters and encouraging Muslims to join the Islamic State, the official said.
The preacher’s online messages prompted the Australian Federal Police to investigate him for inciting Australians to fight in Syria, the Philippine official said.
Senior Superintendent Conrad Capa of the regional police said that the Australian government had coordinated with Philippine police to locate Cerantonio, who was under surveillance by local authorities for two weeks prior to his arrest.
According to Philippines police, Cerantonio has been living in the country since 2013.
Videos purportedly showing Cerantonio’s impassioned calls for fighting also have appeared on YouTube.