MANILA, Philippines – A Filipino doctor accused by U.S. authorities of plotting attacks in New York City, including Times Square, appeared in a Manila court Tuesday and told reporters that money he sent to a charity was misconstrued as funds intended to finance the disrupted plots.
Russell Salic smiled as he was led away in handcuffs by government agents after his brief appearance at the Manila court that is handling a U.S. extradition request, which he and his lawyer vowed to fight.
"That's not true," Salic said when asked by reporters about the allegations. "I just donated money without any malicious intent."
He said U.S. authorities may have mistaken the money he sent to a charity as funding for the plots. An FBI agent who posed as a Muslim online was behind the allegations against him, he said.
A U.S. Department of Justice representative, Christopher Cardani, who attended the court hearing said the department would do everything to have Salic extradited to stand trial in America.
"This is an extremely serious matter in the United States," Cardani told reporters. "It's been alleged these three individuals conspired to build a bomb and explode it at Times Square in New York in the summer of 2016 and it doesn't get any more serious than that."
Last month, U.S. prosecutors said Salic was one of three Islamic State group sympathizers who plotted bombings and shootings last year at New York City concert venues, subway stations and Times Square before U.S. agents thwarted the plot.
Salic was taken into custody in Manila in April. Canadian citizen Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy was arrested in the U.S. last year and has pleaded guilty, and an American of Pakistani origin, Talha Haroon, was arrested in Pakistan in November.
In May last year, Salic allegedly sent approximately $423 from the Philippines to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Islamic extremist to help fund the planned attacks. Salic informed the agent that he intended to continue sending money in support of the Islamic State group, according to court documents that have been made public in New York.
The documents said Salic told the agent his ultimate goal was to join the Islamic State group in Syria but that "it would be a great pleasure if we can slaughter" people in New York.
"There is no proof that he wanted to bomb New York," Salic's lawyer, Manuel Dalucapas, told reporters, adding that he and Salic were ready to argue his case in the Philippines and not in the United States.
Philippine Chief State Counsel Ricardo Paras has said the U.S. government sent an extradition request in May. The Philippine government filed the request with a Manila court on behalf of the U.S. as specified under an extradition treaty.
Aside from the U.S. charges, Salic also faces separate criminal complaints for alleged involvement in the abduction of six sawmill workers, two of whom were later beheaded, in the southern Philippine town of Butig in Lanao del Sur province in 2016, an allegation that he has denied.