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Australian extremist arrested

Melbourne-born Musa Cerantonio is arrested in the Philippines after allegedly inciting violence in Syria and Iraq.

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Wearing a white hooded robe and carrying a can of Coke, bearded Australian religious extremist Musa Cerantonio was ushered through crowded Manila airport after refusing to answer questions posed by Philippine police.

Hours earlier, Mr Cerantonio, who had boasted he had travelled to the Middle East to join jihadists, had been arrested with a Filipino woman in a one-bedroom apartment on the Philippine resort island of Cebu, on a warrant requested by Australian authorities.

The arrest is seen as a coup for Western intelligence agencies, which have named the 29-year-old as one of the top influential jihadist “inspirations” for fighters in Syria and Iraq.

Philippine police escort Australian Islamic preacher Musa Cerantonio through Manila airport.

Philippine police escort Australian Islamic preacher Musa Cerantonio through Manila airport. Photo: AP

He had more than 12,000 followers on Facebook until his account was shut down in April.

Police said that while in the Philippines, Melbourne-born Mr Cerantonio had visited the Muslim majority region of Mindanao, a hotbed for a decades-old Muslim insurgency where Islamic fighters are linked to al-Qaeda.

He had also visited southern Davao City, where security has been tightened after a warning by Philippine President Benigno Aquino that a terrorist attack was being planned there.

But  Senior Superintendent Conrado Capa said that arresting police initially found no evidence linking Mr Cerantonio to terrorism or any terrorism group in the Philippines.

“The arrest was based on a plain and simple serving of warrant of deportation issued by the Bureau of Immigration,” Superintendent Capa said.

However, he said investigators would examine the contents of mobile phones and the SIM cards seized from Mr Cerantonio, to determine any local contacts and to check if he had followers in the country.

Mr Cerantonio, a Catholic who converted to Islam at age 17, will face deportation to Australia under a warrant issued for Robert Edward Cerantonio by the Bureau of Immigration in Manila, for violation of immigration laws.

On Saturday he was under armed guard at an immigration facility inside the Camp Intramuros military base in Manila.

Mr Cerantonio announced on Twitter this month that he had made it successfully to the Levant – presumably either Syria or Iraq – after leaving the Philippines.

''Al-Hamdulillah [Thanks to God] I have arrived in the land of Khilafah [caliphate] in Ash-Sham [the Levant]! May Allah honour all Muslims during this blessed time with His obedience,'' he wrote on Twitter.

Philippine police, who said they had been tracking Mr Cerantonio for a week, believe he has been in the Philippines for months.

Since leaving Australia last year he is believed to have travelled regularly between the Philippines and Cairo, where he is known to have links to Islamic extremist groups.

As Cerantonio has been arrested on an immigration warrant he could be deported to Australia within days. 

Australian Federal Police requested Philippine immigration authorities to pursue him on violation of the country's immigration laws.

The AFP have been investigating possible charges against Mr Cerantonio under Australia's Foreign Incursions Act, which prohibits fighting with foreign paramilitary organisations. That includes recruiting other fighters.