Philippines arrests suspect on U.S. terror watchlist

By Thomson Reuters Feb 15, 2024 | 4:45 AM

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine law enforcers arrested on Thursday a woman on a U.S. terror watch list for allegedly helping transfer funds to an Islamic State leader in Southeast Asia in 2016.

Myrna Mabanza, who is on the U.S. Specially Designated Global Terrorist list and sanctions list of the United Nations Security Council, was arrested in the southern town of Indanan in Sulu province, the Philippines’ Anti-Terrorism Council said in a statement.

Mabanza was involved in transferring over $100,000 to Isnilon Hapilon, Islamic State’s anointed “emir” or leader in Southeast Asia, and served as an intermediary between Hapilon and Islamic State elements in Syria, the U.S. Treasury Department said in 2018.

Hapilon was killed in 2017 in a military operation aimed at retaking the southern city of Marawi which was besieged by Islamist militants for five months.

Mabanza also helped arrange the travel of a pro-ISIS group from Indonesia to the Philippines to buy weapons and train militants how to handle firearms and make bombs.

Her arrest “marks another positive note” for the Philippines’ efforts to exit the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the council said. The Philippines is eyeing to exit the list this year.

The FATF, an intergovernmental organisation combating money laundering and terrorism financing, added the Philippines to the list in June 2021 for what it said was the risk of money laundering from casino junkets and lack of prosecution for terrorism funding cases, among other reasons.

(Reporting by Mikhail Flores; editing by Miral Fahmy)