Is Daesh recruiting from our overseas workers?

When I read the news article published by Arab News last Friday, I almost fell off my seat. The headline read: “Kuwait arrests Filipino woman linked to Daesh attack plot.” It was a story attributed to the Associated Press.

“Daesh” is the acronym of the Arabic name of a terror group formerly referred to as ISIL by other states. It has claimed ownership of acts of extreme violence such as rape and murder of women and children, beheadings, and all kinds of terror attacks undertaken by an intricate web of foreign terrorist fighters.

Based on the news report, the Kuwaiti government announced that it arrested a Filipino woman accused of joining the dreaded Daesh group through its affiliate in Libya and who planned to launch a terror attack.

Surprisingly, it appears that the Filipino woman entered Kuwait last June as a domestic worker. This means that she went through the usual process of becoming an overseas Filipino worker—from the mandatory pre-departure seminar to gaining a job contract obtained for her by a licensed recruitment agency and approved by both the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

It would be easy enough to trace her personal background once the Kuwaiti government conveys her name to the Philippine Embassy.

“She confessed she was ready to carry out any terrorist attack once circumstances and means were ripe in order to undermine security and stability in Kuwait, as well as ignite sedition,” the state-run Kuwait News Agency reported (This is a direct quote embedded in the AP news report).

Based on the same news item, there were e-mail messages sent by the woman to the Daesh group’s Libyan affiliate, pledging her allegiance to the terror group. This was certainly extraordinary given the usual profile of our Filipino domestic workers, many of whom grew up in places where even texting was considered a luxury.

While reading through the brief news item, a number of questions raced through my head.

1. How can she have links to an international terror group based in Libya, when she just entered Kuwait as a domestic worker last June?

2. If this Filipina is indeed connected to Daesh, also known as the dreaded ISIL, was she instructed to apply as an OFW to enter Kuwait and carry out whatever Daesh wanted her to do?

3. If our compatriot was simply an innocent domestic worker entangled in a sophisticated, cross-border terror plot not of her making, would Kuwait allow our government to have direct access to her and provide her with legal counsel so that her rights could be protected? Was she forced to confess? How and when was she arrested? Was our embassy in Kuwait officially notified upon her arrest?

It is extremely worrisome to think that perhaps international terror groups have included Filipinos, here and overseas, in its recruitment drive. We should not be blind to that possibility, however, given the aggressive, irrational behavior of Daesh in spreading terror, hate, and conflict around the world.

However, let me make it clear. Daesh will find it hard to transform our modern-day heroes into soldiers of self-destruction and mayhem in the world. They are among the best and the brightest, and the most keen to make a difference especially in their families’ lives. But every OFW has a story, and perhaps in the tapestry of needy and vulnerable moments, one or two of them would succumb, not knowing the grimness that lie beyond.

In October 2015, the Saudi government arrested a Filipino domestic worker because of alleged links to a Syrian bomb-maker. The suspect, Lady Joy Aban Bali Nang, was arrested together with a Syrian national named Yasser Mohammed Shafiq Al-Barazi.

The OFW was allegedly involved in sewing suicide bombing belts for the Syrian. The Filipino worker had escaped from her employer for still unknown reasons. Some sources noted there was a love angle involved. Others contended that she was being held against her will.

What has happened to Lady Joy since then, and what would happen to this recently arrested OFW in Kuwait now?

I hope that there is a special unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs and in other national security agencies monitoring cases such as these with utmost concern for the truth, and for the protection of everyone. To put it bluntly, we cannot afford to have our overseas employment program associated with terrorism. Filipinos overseas are among the best, the brightest, and most hard-working and honest workers that any employer can boast of. We have to make sure that their ranks are protected, that none of them are used and exploited in the name of global terrorism.

The drug war that we now bear witness to didn’t scale up overnight. It took years of neglect, apathy, and corruption to grow that monster in our national backyard. We can’t afford to do the same in the campaign against terrorism. The fight against terrorism deserves our wide-eyed attention and personal commitment. Our government should immediately seek access to the Filipino domestic worker being held in Kuwait. Let us find out the truth and be guided by it.


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Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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