Zamboanga, mixed between Christians and Muslims, has long been a militant target. Source: Flickr
An influential Saudi Arabian preacher, who was recently named as a target for assassination by Isis, has been shot and wounded in a southern Philippine city, police announced. His Filipino bodyguards killed the gunman at the scene.
Sheikh Aaidh al-Qarni was being treated in a Zamboanga hospital but did not have life-threatening injuries, Senior Inspector Helen Galvez said. He was then flown to Manila on a Saudi embassy jet.
Qarni was wounded in several parts of his body and a Saudi embassy attaché was also wounded.
The cleric had given a lecture at Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga and was leaving when a man emerged from the crowd with a .45 calibre pistol, police said.
“We pinned down the gunman. He’s dead,” Galvez said.
JM Berger, a fellow with the Programme on Extremism at George Washington University in the US capital, suggested the so-called Islamic State group could be behind the assassination attempt.
Qarni was named by Isis or Islamic State in the latest issue of Dabiq, its monthly online newsletter, in an article entitled “Kill the Imams of Kufr”.
It accused the scholars of apostasy and asked “lone wolves” to attack them.
Two Zamboanga men were arrested after eyewitnesses said they were seen with the attacker. No motive has been found for the attack and no group has claimed responsibility.
Qarni was visiting at the invitation of a Philippine religious association, the Saudi embassy in Manila said. Qarni has more than 12 million Twitter followers and French academic Stephane Lacroix said he was one of “the most famous” Saudi preachers.
Isis appears to be growing increasingly influential among militant groups in the southern Philippines with several publically declaring their loyalty to the extremist movement. Islamist separatists who attacked an army outpost in the southern Philippines in late February brandished black Islamic State flags during their assault. The attack triggered a week of clashes that left at least 12 militants and five soldiers dead.
Zamboanga is one of the largest southern Philippine cities which has been home to a separatist Muslim rebellion for decades, with the city a regular target for attacks. A raid by an Islamist group in 2013 triggered three weeks of clashes with security forces that left more than 200 people dead.