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Bin Laden ‘henchman’ arrested in the Philippines

A Jordanian man once considered a financier for Al-Qaeda and a “henchman” of Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law was arrested in the Philippines in July, officials said on Thursday (Aug 1), reinforcing concerns that Islamic militants are making a base in the country.

Mahmoud Afif Abdeljalil, 51, was arrested July 4 in Zamboanga, a coastal city at the south-western tip of Mindanao, the nation’s second-largest island.

Abdeljalil had false documents under an assumed name, Mr Jaime Morente, the chief of the Bureau of Immigration, said in a statement.

Abdeljalil, whom the authorities called “a former henchman” connected to the bin Laden family, has been in government custody since the arrest.

“We are going to deport him for being an illegal entrant, as he has no record of arrival after he was arrested and deported in 2003 for being an undesirable alien,” Mr Morente said.

In 2003, the authorities in the Philippines said that Abdeljalil was a close associate of Mohammed Khalifa, a Saudi businessman, and bin Laden’s brother-in-law and that the two were involved in financing the Al-Qaeda network through charity organizations.

The authorities said they began months of monitoring Abdeljalil after he and an Algerian companion were flagged at a military checkpoint in Zamboanga in August last year.

Abdeljalil said under questioning that he had returned to the country in 2007.

The CIA has dramatically weakened Al-Qaeda since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks; the organization has not carried out a large-scale attack in years.

US officials revealed on Wednesday that Hamza bin Laden, a son of Osama bin Laden who was seen as a future AlQaeda leader, was killed some time in the first two years of the Trump administration.

But the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has risen in the Philippines, even as its presence has decreased in the Middle East.

It has especially gained a foothold in Mindanao, where the dense wilderness and weak policing have made it a haven for Islamists.

In 2017, ISIS-allied militants took over the city of Marawai in Mindanao. The Philippine Army reclaimed it five months later after pitched battles in which at least 900 insurgents were killed.

In January, an Indonesian couple killed at least 23 people and injured more than 100 in a suicide bombing at a cathedral on the southern Philippine island of Jolo.

The couple had unsuccessfully tried to travel to ISIS-held territory in Syria in 2016.