MANILA: An Australian convert to Islam who used the Internet to urge people to join “jihad” in Iraq and Syria was arrested in the Philippines yesterday, local police said.
Robert Edward Cerantonio, 29, who also goes by the name Musa Cerantonio, was detained in the central Philippine city of Cebu and will be deported to Australia, said Superintendent Conrado Capa, the region’s deputy police chief. “In one broadcast on his website, he called on brother Muslims to join the war in Iraq and Syria,” said Capa.
“We cannot say with certainty that he had any contact with local Muslim groups,” Capa added.
The Philippines has a large Muslim minority in the southern region of Mindanao, a hotbed for a decades-old Muslim insurgency and where Islamic militants linked to Al Qaeda also operate.
But Cebu’s police commander, Chief Superintendent Prudencio Banas, said there was “no evidence linking him to any terror act”.
Cerantonio was arrested at the request of the Australian government and will be deported because Canberra has cancelled his passport, making him an illegal alien, Banas added. A media officer at the Australian embassy declined to comment when asked about the arrest.
Television footage aired by the ABS-CBN network showed a bearded Caucasian man in a white robe being ushered out of an apartment by officers wearing helmets and flak jackets. It later showed him being escorted by police through Manila’s airport, wearing a hooded jacket.
Police said they had been monitoring the activities of the Melbourne native since February when he arrived in Cebu, the country’s largest metropolis outside Manila. He lived with a Philippine woman and moved around Cebu until his arrest at a one-room apartment near the airport, Capa said in a telephone interview from Cebu.
“For the most part, he keeps to himself in his rooms, in hotels or apartments,” Capa said, adding that the woman bought food and other supplies for him.
The 32-year-old woman was wanted by police over an unrelated fraud case and was also arrested yesterday, Capa added.
A police intelligence officer involved in the operation said Cerantonio had also visited Mindanao, though there was no indication he had tried to recruit Filipinos to fight alongside Islamic State militants who have seized large swathes of territory in eastern Syria and in neighbouring Iraq.
“Sometimes he mentions the Philippine government (on his website), but does not call for violence” against it, the officer added, adding that the Australian has “no overt following” in the Philippines.
A report in The Australian newspaper last month described Cerantonio as a preacher and “one of (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — ISIS) most influential propagandists”, and that Australian police were planning to move against him.
The newspaper said Cerantonio called for the assassination of Western leaders in a Facebook post in December, and that a study had found one in four foreign fighters in Syria followed his Twitter account.