By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan

Myrna Ajijul Mabanza (Photo courtesy of PNP Public Information Office)

MANILA – Authorities on Thursday nabbed a female terrorist who served as a financial conduit and coordinator for international terrorist groups.

In a press conference at Camp Crame, Quezon City, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) director Maj. Gen. Romeo Caramat Jr. said the suspect, 32-year-old Myrna Ajijul Mabanza, was nabbed in an operation in Barangay Pasil, Indanan, Sulu shortly before 6 a.m.

Caramat said Mabanza is wanted for charges of terror financing under Republic Act 10168 (Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012) and RA 11479 (Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020) issued by a Zamboanga court in December 2023.

She was declared by the United States Defense Department as a specially designated global terrorist along with the Islamic State (ISIS) founder Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and the late Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader and ISIS emir in the Philippines Isnilon Hapilon.

She is the widow of a Malaysian terrorist who was believed to have influenced her into engaging in terrorism, Caramat said.

Caramat said Mabanza facilitated the transfer of funds from international financiers to local terrorist leaders including Hapilon since 2016.

These include the transfer of funds worth US$107,000 to Hapilon in January 2016.

“In February 2016, Mabanza served as an intermediary between Hapilon and ISIS elements in Syria while in March 2016, Mabanza coordinated another transfer of funds with Hapilon. Also in March 2016, a senior ISIS official in Syria planned to send financial support to ISIS-(Philippines) through Mabanza,” he added.

In April 2016, she also helped facilitate the travel of a representative of Indonesian terrorist group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) from Indonesia to the Philippines for a meeting with Hapilon.

The JAD representative traveled to the Philippines to purchase arms for ISIS-aligned forces in Indonesia and to set up training courses for pro-ISIS recruits from Indonesia with ISIS-Philippines.

“It will surely paralyze the operation of Islamic State or ISIS, the ISIS’ plan to establish itself in the country, and of course in other countries because other governments are also running after financing of terrorism,” Caramat told reporters.

Philippine National Police chief Gen. Benjamin Acorda Jr. said the arrest of Mabanza was a big blow to the terrorist group.

“With regards to the effects on the operations, most likely with the arrest of Myrna, ang cash flow nila maaapektuhan yan (their cash flow would be affected), definitely their operations will be affected,” Acorda said in a press conference.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), chaired by Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin, said the government not only dealt a solid blow to local extremist groups with Mabanza’s arrest but also showed its commitment to address money laundering and terrorism financing.

“Mabanza’s arrest marks another positive note for the Philippines’ whole-of-nation campaign to address terrorism and terrorism financing that will reflect well to contribute in the country’s unyielding efforts to get out of the Financial Action Task Force’s Grey List,” the ATC said.

On Friday, the National Security Council (NSC) said Mabanza’s arrest highlights the government’s commitment to holding perpetrators of terrorism accountable for their acts.

“The arrest of Mabanza is a significant triumph for national and international security efforts. The successful operation, executed by our dedicated law enforcement agencies, underscores the government’s commitment to combating terrorism and maintaining peace in our country,” NSC chief and National Security Adviser Eduardo Año said in a statement. (with reports from Benjamin Pulta and Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)