DOJ junks charges vs. suspected ISIS recruiter

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 8) — The Justice Department has dismissed charges of illegal possession of a firearm and instruments for making explosives against alleged foreign terrorist Fehmi Lassoued and his Filipino companion.

In a seven-page resolution dated March 5, the Department of Justice (DOJ) approved the dismissal of charges against the two for "lack of merit."

"After a careful review and evaluation of the evidence submitted by the parties, the undersigned finds no probable cause to charge respondents for violations of R.A. No. 10591 and R.A. No. 9516," the resolution said.

The two laws lay down regulations and penalties for the illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, or explosives or the instruments used to manufacture them.

The Army's Anti-terrorist Unit said Lassoued is part of an international terrorist cell in the country. He and his companion, Anabel Moncera Salipada, were arrested on February 16 after authorities searched their apartment.

Police supposedly found four pipes believed to be components for making an improvised explosive device, capacitors, integrated circuits, one .45-caliber pistol, and seven rounds of ammunition, among other items in their apartment.

Authorities said neither Lassoued nor Salipada are licensed registered firearm owners. The said gun also had no record in the government database.

But the respondents gave a conflicting account.

In his counter-affidavit, Lassoued denied the items allegedly recovered from him were in his possession during his arrest.

He said he was apprehended near a garden of a building in Makati while taking a break from his Spanish classes. Nothing was recovered from him except ₱20,000 in cash and his mobile phone.

Salipada also denied the charges. She said she was in the apartment when uniformed soldiers knocked at the door and entered their room, asking where her companion was.

She was ordered to stay in the hallway, and only saw Lassoued during the inquest, when she learned about the charges filed against them.

The DOJ also noted photos of evidence supposedly taken from the apartment had a different background than other photos showing the respondents and arresting officers with the items.

"Perusal of the two photographs labeled as 'Photograph of the arrested suspect and the confiscated evidence' suggests that these pictures were taken in a place other than room 409, since their background are different from those in the 5 photographs without respondent Fehmi Lassoued," said the resolution.

It said the discrepancy supports Lassoued's claims he was not in the room when the warrant was enforced.

"It is contrary to the natural order of things for the arresting officers and respondents not to be shown... especially so that that is necessary to document their presence during the implementation of SW (search warrant) No. 18-003 in order to sustain complainant's story," the resolution read.

Salipada was also examined on February 17 at the Ospital ng Maynila Medical Center, whereas Lassoued was examined February 18 at Army General Hospital in Fort Andres Bonifacio, Metro Manila.

"The fact that both respondents underwent medical examination at two different places on two different occasions suggests that they were arrested in separate places at a different time," it said.

The DOJ directed the complainants to immediately return to respondents the money and mobile phone taken from them during their arrest.

The PNP had earlier presented Lassoued to media after his arrest.

According to PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa, Lassoued, a Tunisian national, was a recruiter for an international terrorist organization and a former ISIS commander in Syria and Turkey.

READ: PNP, AFP arrest suspected foreign terrorist in Manila