MANILA, Philippines — Philippine prosecutors have recommended an extremist leader’s widow to be charged with inciting rebellion for allegedly posting messages online calling for fighters to join a bloody Islamic State group-linked siege in the country’s south, a Department of Justice report and official said Friday.
State prosecutors said in a Department of Justice resolution seen by The Associated Press that there was “probable cause” to charge Karen Aizha Hamidon with nearly 300 counts of inciting rebellion.
While heavily armed militants were staging the disastrous uprising in southern Marawi city, Hamildon allegedly posted at least 295 separate messages, mostly through the Telegram and WhatsApp messaging services, to invite fighters to join the five-month mutiny.
Hamidon has denied the allegations.
If eventually filed in court, the recommended charges would be one of the first cyberterrorism cases in the country and serve as a warning that militants could be criminally liable for online statements that call on people to stage an armed rebellion against the government, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong said.
“We just want to show them that our laws are not just mere decorations,” Ong said. “We mean to enforce them.”
Thousands of troops, backed by artillery, tanks and airstrikes, crushed the uprising on Oct. 23 after the fierce urban clashes left more than 1,100 combatants and civilians dead, including more than 900 Filipino and foreign militants. The violence displaced about half a million people and turned mosque-studded Marawi’s central business and residential districts into a smoldering war zone.
The militant uprising prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in the south and reinforced fears that the Islamic State group was taking concrete steps to gain a foothold in Asia and elsewhere as it faces major battle setbacks in Syria and Iraq.
Hamidon has acknowledged she’s the widow of Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, an IS-linked Filipino militant commander killed in a clash with police in the southern Philippines in January. She was arrested by government agents who posed as buyers of a washing machine she was selling online.
Maguid’s group has been implicated in a deadly bombing in southern Davao city, the president’s hometown, and a failed bomb attack near the U.S. Embassy last year.
In a statement, Hamidon was quoted as saying in the Department of Justice resolution that she was a Muslim convert who was “cajoled and seduced into doing several acts,” including her online messages, “against her will” by an online contact posing as a British militant.
Hamidon also claims there was no proof that she was the author of the rebellious social media posts, the resolution said.
National Bureau of Investigation investigators in Manila have said India has also asked the Philippines to help investigate Hamidon due to allegations that she encouraged several Indian militants last year to join the Islamic State group in the Middle East. Hamidon denied the allegation.