PNP, FBI bust group of Filipino hackers backed by Saudi terrorists
MANILA, Philippines—A group of Filipino hackers allegedly financed by a Saudi-based terrorist cell has been busted by agents of the Philippine National Police and the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation, the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group said Thursday.
On Wednesday night, Filipino and American operatives arrested four suspects and confiscated computers and telecommunication equipment believed to be used by them in their hacking activities, CIDG director Samuel D. Pagdilao Jr. said.
The group was allegedly behind attacks on the US telecommunication firm AT&T that resulted in $2 million in losses to the company in 2009.
In a statement, the CIDG said the group also had links to the Asian terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah.
Armed with several search warrants, members of the CIDG’s Anti-Transnational and Cyber Crime Division (ATCCD) and FBI agents struck at several target areas in Metro Manila to arrest the suspects.
ATCCD chief Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa identified the suspects as Macnell Gracilla, 31, a native of Carmen Rosales, Pangasinan, and resident of Unit 5, Montiville Place, Greenville Subdivision, Sauyo, Quezon City; Francisco Manalac, 25, and his live-in partner Regina Balura, 21, both of 89 Sampaguita Extension, East Bagong Barrio, Calooocan City; and Paul Michael Kwan, 29, of 21 Hebrew St., West Bagong Barrio, Caloocan City.
Sosa added that Kwan was previously arrested in 2007.
“The suspect [Kwan] has been arrested in 2007 by Philippine authorities following the international crackdown launched by the FBI against suspected terrorist cells involved in financing terrorist activities,” he said.
It was not clear from the CIDG statement how he was eventually released.
He said the FBI had been investigating the “incessant hacking” of telecommunication companies in the US and in the Philippines since 1999 and had uncovered the paper trail of various bank transactions linking the local hackers to the Saudi-based cell, whose activities include financing terrorists.
Sosa said that in 2007, FBI operatives arrested Pakistani JI member Muhammad Zamir in Italy.
Zamir’s group, which was later tagged by the FBI as the financial source of the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, in November 2008, was also the same group that financed Kwan’s group of hackers in Manila.
Sosa said Kwan and the other hackers in Manila were being used by Zamir’s group to hack the trunk-line (PBX) of different telecommunication companies, including AT&T.
“Revenues derived from the hacking activities of the Filipino-based hackers were diverted to the account of the terrorists, who paid the Filipino hackers on a commission basis via local banks,” he said.
“Filipino hackers are paid on a commission basis via local banks,” Sosa said.
After Zamir’s arrest in 2007, a Saudi-national took the helm in the operations of the group, which also maintained its link with the group of Filipino hackers based in Manila, the CIDG said.
In March, FBI authorities requested the CIDG-ATCCD for assistance after they found that the group of Filipino hackers was the same one that had been targeting AT&T.
Pagdilao said the arrest of Filipino hackers tied to a group involved in financing terrorist activities should serve as a wake-up call to legislators to hasten the passage of the Cyber Crime Prevention Bill now pending in Congress.
That bill, he said, would “address pro-actively the threat of cyber-crime terrorists who have made the country their base of operations.” With Jamie Marie Elona, INQUIRER.net