Taha Mohammed Al-Jabouri was presented to the media by Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronaldo Dela Rosa on Monday. He was arrested at the weekend by PNP Intelligence Group operatives in Barangay Malabanias, Angeles City.
Citing intelligence information passed to the PNP by the Iraqi Embassy in Manila, Dela Rosa claimed Al-Jabouri is “a chemist with knowledge of explosives who is known to have close ties with militant extremist movements in the Middle East.”
According to the PNP chief, Al-Jabouri arrived in Manila from Istanbul on Aug. 27, at the height of preparations for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, which was held in November and was attended by 20 world leaders, including US President Donald Trump.
“Since then he evaded detection after the Iraqi Embassy in Manila alerted the Philippine intelligence community of his presence,” Dela Rosa said.
On Saturday night police were tipped off by local authorities in Angeles City of the presence of a suspicious-looking man with Middle Eastern features, fitting the description and photographs provided by the Iraqi Embassy. PNP intelligence operatives were immediately sent to the area and at around 3 a.m. on Sunday they arrested Al-Jabouri.
The police claim Al-Jabouri admitted, under interrogation, that he had served as a consultant for Hamas in Damascus before moving to Istanbul in 2012. He also claimed to have been responsible for improving Hamas’ “rocket technology.”
The suspect further revealed that he traveled to Manila to meet a Chinese business group, which hired him as a consultant.
However, Dela Rosa said the police have yet to establish whether Al-Jabouri has been involved in any illegal activity in the Philippines, or the threat the suspect may pose. They are, he said, checking if Al-Jabouri has links with any local militant groups.
At present, charges will be filed against the Iraqi national as an illegal alien, as his 90-day visa has already expired. Philippine authorities are coordinating with the Iraqi Embassy to deport Al-Jabouri.
Dr. Rikard Jalkebro, a visiting security expert from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said the arrest shows that the Philippines, and other countries in Southeast Asia, are a common choice for people who are trying to escape justice in their home countries.
Jalkebro, however, questioned the wisdom of making Al-Jabouri’s arrest public, and other aspects of the affair.
The biggest question, he said, is: “What is the Iraqi government, or the Iraqi Embassy’s underlying reason for reporting Al-Jabouri?”
He continued, “I’m not sure of the point of alerting the media about this arrest. I think that might have been a bit preemptive. (It seems they are) highlighting the fact that he has links to Hamas and that he is Iraqi in order to, not necessarily spread fear, but to spread some kind of caution and highlight that yes, we do have foreign terrorists in the country.”
“I think it sounds very odd to mention that you freelance for Hamas. That doesn’t add up to me,” he told Arab News. “It sounds like a reason for the government to say, ‘Look at this. We have a foreign terrorist.’”