Cebu - An Australian convert to Islam who used the Internet to urge people to join “jihad” in Iraq and Syria was arrested in the Philippines on Friday, 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.
“He has been in Cebu since February... For the most part, he keeps to himself in his rooms, in hotels or apartments,” Capa told AFP in a telephone interview from Cebu.
Capa said Cerantonio was arrested and would be deported because the Australian government cancelled his passport, making him an illegal alien.
A media officer at the Australian embassy declined to comment when asked about the arrest.
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.
“We cannot say with certainty that he had any contact with local Muslim groups,” Capa said, adding the Australian had been living with a Philippine woman and moving periodically around Cebu.
The 32-year-old woman was wanted by police over an unrelated fraud case and was also arrested Friday, he added.
A police intelligence officer involved in the operation said Cerantonio had been in Mindanao, though there was no indication he had tried to recruit Filipinos or been in contact with Islamic militants in the area.
“This person... has a website and he propagates extreme teachings and advocates jihad and calling on Muslim brothers to go to Syria and Iraq to fight together with the ISIS,” said the official, referring to the Islamic State militants who have seized large swathes of territory in eastern Syria and in neighbouring Iraq.
Cerantonio, a Melbourne native, “is a convert from Christianity”, said the intelligence officer.
“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.
Capa said Cerantonio was arrested at an apartment near Cebu's airport, where he and the woman lived in one room, and that the woman bought food and other supplies for him.
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.
A report in The Australian newspaper last month described Cerantonio as a preacher and “one of (the Islamic State's) 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. - AFP