Abu Sayyaf

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Abu Sayyaf
Participant in the Insurgency in the Philippines
Flag of Jihad.svg
Islamic fundamentalism
LeadersAbdurajik Abubakar Janjalani  [1]
Khadaffy Janjalani  [2]
Radullan Sahiron[3][4] Abdul Qadir Zoher
HeadquartersJolo, Sulu, Philippines
Area of
Philippines, Malaysia
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Abu Sayyaf
Participant in the Insurgency in the Philippines
Flag of Jihad.svg
Islamic fundamentalism
LeadersAbdurajik Abubakar Janjalani  [1]
Khadaffy Janjalani  [2]
Radullan Sahiron[3][4] Abdul Qadir Zoher
HeadquartersJolo, Sulu, Philippines
Area of
Philippines, Malaysia

Abu Sayyaf (About this sound pronunciation  AH-boo sah-YAHF;[needs IPA] Arabic: جماعة أبو سياف‎; Jamāʿah Abū Sayyāf, ASG, Filipino: Grupong Abu Sayyaf) [6] is a militant Islamist group based in and around Jolo and Basilan, where for more than four decades, Moro groups have been engaged in an insurgency for an independent province in the country. The name of the group is derived from the Arabic ابو, abu ("father of") and sayyaf ("swordsmith"[7]).

Since its inception in 1991, the group has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion[8] in what they describe as their fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.[9] Abu Sayyaf seeks the establishment of an Iranian-style Islamic theocracy in the southern Philippines.[10] Abu Sayyaf forces in Basilan and in Zamboanga Peninsula were, by June 2003, believed to number less than 500, down from more than 1,000 a year earlier. They use mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles.

The United States Department of State has classified the group as a terrorist group by adding it to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.[9] In 2002, fighting Abu Sayyaf became a mission of the American military's Operation Enduring Freedom and part of the U.S. War on Terror.[11] The CIA has deployed paramilitary officers from their elite Special Activities Division to hunt down and kill or capture key terrorist leaders.[12][not in citation given] Several hundred United States soldiers are also stationed in the area to mainly train local forces in counter terror and counter guerrilla operations, but as a status of forces agreement and under Philippine law are not allowed to engage in direct combat.[12]

Abu Sayyaf is also involved in criminal activities, including kidnapping, rape, child sexual assault, drive-by shooting, extortion, and drug trafficking.[13]

Location and view on Abu Sayyaf[edit]

Until his death in a gunbattle on September 4, 2006, Janjalani was considered the nominal leader of the group by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. His older brother Abdulrajak, the founder of Abu Sayyaf, died in December 1998 in a gun battle with Filipino forces. Khadaffy's death was officially confirmed on January 20, 2007, through DNA analysis of both brother's remains. Both were natives of Isabela City, currently one of the poorest cities of the Philippines. Located on the North-Western part of the island of Basilan, Isabela is also the capital of Basilan province, across the Isabela Channel from the Malamwi Island. But Isabela City is administered under the Zamboanga Peninsula political region north of the island of Basilan, while the rest of the island province of Basilan is now (since 1996) governed as part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the east.

Consequently, being on the social or political division line, Basilan, Jolo and Sulu have seen some of the fiercest fighting between government troops and the Muslim separatist group Abu Sayyaf through the early 1990s. The Abu Sayyaf primarily operates in the southern Philippines with members traveling to Manila and other provinces in the country. It was reported that Abu Sayyaf had begun expanding into neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia by the early 1990s.

The Abu Sayyaf is one of the smallest but strongest of the Islamic separatist groups in the Philippines. Some Abu Sayyaf members have studied or worked in Saudi Arabia and developed ties to mujahadeen while fighting and training in the war against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.[14] Abu Sayyaf proclaimed themselves as mujahideen and freedom fighters but are not supported by many people in the Philippines including its Muslim clerics.

Abu Sayyaf is estimated to have a membership of 200 with an extended membership of over 2000.[9][15]

The group was originally not thought to receive funding from outside sources, but intelligence reports from the United States, Indonesia and Australia have found intermittent ties to the Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group.[16] The Philippine government considers the Abu Sayyaf as a part of Jemaah Islamiyah and notes that initial funding came from Al-Qaeda through the brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, through Islamic charities in the region.[17][18][19] Continuing ties to Islamist groups in the Middle East indicate that Al-Qaeda may be continuing support.[15][20][21]

Abu Sayyaf-Al Qaeda group[edit]

The group may have received funding from Al-Qaeda in the early 1990s through Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden.[22][23] Al-Qaeda-affiliated top terrorist Ramzi Yousef operated in the Philippines in the mid-1990s and trained Abu Sayyaf soldiers.[24] The 2002 edition of the United State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism mention links to Al-Qaeda.

Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani’s first recruits were soldiers of the Moro National Liberation Front (M.N.L.F.) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (M.I.L.F.). However, the M.I.L.F. and M.N.L.F. deny having links with Abu Sayyaf. Both officially distance themselves from Abu Sayyaf because of its attacks on civilians and its supposed profiteering. The Philippine military, however, has claimed that elements of both groups provide support to the Abu Sayyaf.


In the early 1970s, the Moro National Liberation Front (M.N.L.F.) was the main Muslim rebel groups fighting in Basilan and Mindanao in the southern Philippines.[9]

Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani, the older brother of Khadaffy Janjalani, had been a teacher from Basilan, who later studied Islamic theology and Arabic in Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia during the 1980s.[14][15] Abdurajik then went to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union and the Afghan government during the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. During that period, he is alleged to have met Osama Bin Laden and been given $6 million to establish a more Islamic group with the M.N.L.F. in the southern Philippines, made up of members of the extant M.N.L.F.[25]

By then, as a political solution in the southern Philippines, ARMM had been established in 1989.

Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani leadership (1989–1998)[edit]

M.N.L.F. had moderated into an established political government, the ARMM. It was established in 1989, fully institutionalized by 1996 and which eventually became the ruling government in southern Mindanao.

When Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani returned home to Basilan island in 1990, he gathered radical members of the old M.N.L.F. who wanted to resume armed struggle for an independent Islamic state and in 1991 established the Abu Sayyaf.[9]

By 1995 Abu Sayyaf was active in large scale bombings and attacks in the Philippines. The Abu Sayyaf's first attack was the assault on the town of Ipil in Mindanao in April 1995. This year also marked the escape of 20 year old Khadaffy Janjalani from Camp Crame in Manila along with another member named Jovenal Bruno.

On December 18, 1998, Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani was killed in a gun battle with the Philippine National Police on Basilan Island.[17] He is thought to have been about age 39 at the time of his death.[15] The death of Aburajik Abubakar Janjalani marked a turning point in Abu Sayyaf operations, shifting from its ideological focus to more general kidnappings, murders and robberies, as the younger brother Khadaffy Janjalani succeeded Abdurajak.

Khadaffy Janjalani leadership (1999–2007)[edit]

The 23 year-old Khadaffy Janjalani then took leadership of one of Abu Sayyaf's factions in an internecine struggle.[17][26] He then worked to consolidate his leadership of the Abu Sayyaf, causing the group to appear inactive for a period. After Janjalani's leadership was secured, the Abu Sayyaf began a new strategy, as they proceeded to take hostages.

The group's motive for kidnapping became more financial than religious during the period of Khadaffy's leadership, according to locals in the areas associated with Abu Sayyaf. The hostage money is probably the method of financing of the group.[25] The group expanded its operations to Malaysia in 2000 when it abducted foreigners from two resorts. This action was condemned by most leaders in the Islamic world.

It was also responsible for the kidnapping and murder of more than 30 foreigners and Christian clerics and workers, including Martin and Gracia Burnham.[27][28]

A commander named Abu Sabaya was killed in 2002 while trying to evade forces.[29]

Galib Andang, one of the leaders of the group, was captured in Sulu in December 2003.[17][27][30][31]

An explosion at a military base in Jolo on February 18, 2006 was blamed on Abu Sayyaf by Brig. General Alexander Aleo, an Army officer.[32]

Khadaffy Janjalani was indicted in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for his alleged involvement in terrorist attacks, including hostage taking by Abu Sayyaf and murder, against United States nationals and other foreign nationals in and around the Republic of the Philippines.[33]

Consequently on February 24, 2006, Janjalani was among six fugitives in the second and most recent group of indicted fugitives to be added to the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list along with two fellow members of the Abu Sayyaf, including Isnilon Totoni Hapilon and Jainal Antel Sali, Jr.[34][35]

On December 13, 2006, it was reported that Abu Sayyaf members may have been planning attacks during the ASEAN summit in the Philippines. The group was reported to have been training alongside Jemaah Islamiyah militants. The plot was reported to have involved detonating a car bomb in Cebu City where the summit was scheduled to take place.[36]

On December 27, 2006, the Philippine military reported that Janjalani's remains had been recovered near Patikul, in Jolo in the southern Philippines and that DNA tests had been ordered to confirm the discovery. He was allegedly shot in the neck in an encounter with government troops on September on Luba Hills, Patikul town in Sulu. In 2009, with the shooting of two United States soldiers, Abu Sayyaf was again put in the international spotlight.

Abu Solaiman a soldier of the Abu Sayyaf was killed by government troops on January 16, 2007.


2000 Sipadan kidnappings[edit]

On May 3, 2000, Abu Sayyaf guerillas occupied the Malaysian dive resort island Sipadan and took 21 hostages, including 10 tourists and 11 resort workers – 19 non-Filipino nationals in total. The hostages were taken to an Abu Sayyaf base in Jolo, Sulu.[37]

Two Muslim Malaysians were released soon after, however Abu Sayyaf made various demands for the release of several prisoners, including 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and $2.4 million. In July, a Filipino television evangelist and 12 of his crew offered their help and went as mediators for the relief of other hostages.[38] They, three French television crew members and a German journalist, all visiting Abu Sayyaf on Jolo, were also taken hostage.[39] Most hostages were released in August and September 2000, partly due to mediation by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and an offer of $25 million in "development aid".[40]

Abu Sayyaf conducted a second raid on the island of Pandanan near Sipadan on September 10 and seized three more Malaysians.[41] The Philippine army launched a major offensive on September 16, 2000, rescuing all remaining hostages, except Filipino dive instructor Roland Ullah. He was eventually freed in 2003.[37]

Jeffrey Schilling[edit]

Jeffrey Schilling

Jeffrey Schilling, an American citizen and Muslim convert, was held by Abu Sayyaf for 8 months after being captured while visiting a terrorist camp with his wife, Ivy Osani. Abu Sayyaf demanded a $10 million ransom for his release, but Schilling escaped after more than 7 months and was picked up by the Philippine Marine Corps on April 12, 2001.[42][43]

Many commentators have been critical of Schilling, who had reportedly walked into the camp. Schilling claims to have been invited by his wife's distant cousin who was a member of Abu Sayyaf.[44]

Martin and Gracia Burnham[edit]

On May 27, 2001, an Abu Sayyaf raid kidnapped about 20 people from Dos Palmas, an expensive resort in Honda Bay, to the north of Puerto Princesa City on the island of Palawan, which had been "considered completely safe". The most "valuable" of the hostages were three North Americans, Martin and Gracia Burnham, a missionary couple, and Guillermo Sobero, a Peruvian-American tourist who was later beheaded by Abu Sayyaf, for whom Abu Sayyaf demanded $1 million in ransom.[45] The hostages and hostage-takers then returned hundreds of kilometres back across the Sulu Sea to the Abu Sayyaf's territories in Mindanao.[46]

According to author Mark Bowden, the leader of the raid was Abu Sabaya. According to Gracia Burnham, she told her husband "to identify his kidnappers" to authorities "as 'the Osama bin Laden Group,' but Burnham was unfamiliar with that name and stuck with" Abu Sayyaf. After returning to Mindanao, Abu Sayyaf operatives conducted numerous raids, "including one at a coconut plantation called Golden Harvest; they took about 15 people captive there and later used bolo knives to hack the heads off two men. The number of hostages waxed and waned as some were ransomed and released, new ones were taken and others were killed."[46]

On June 7, 2002, about a year after the raid, Philippine army troops conducted a rescue operation in which two of the three hostages held, Martin Burnham and Filipino nurse, Ediborah Yap, were killed. The remaining hostage was wounded and the hostage takers escaped.

In July 2004, Gracia Burnham testified at a trial of eight Abu Sayyaf members and identified six of the suspects as being her erstwhile captors, including Alhamzer Limbong, Abdul Azan Diamla, Abu Khari Moctar, Bas Ishmael, Alzen Jandul, and Dazid Baize.

"The eight suspects sat silently during her three-hour testimony, separated from her by a wooden grill. They face the death sentence if found guilty of kidnapping for ransom. The trial began this year and is not expected to end for several months."[47]

Alhamzer Limbong was later killed in a prison uprising.[48]

Gracia Burnham has claimed that Philippine military officials were colluding with her captors, saying that the Armed Forces of the Philippines "didn't pursue us...As time went on, we noticed that they never pursued us".[49]

Journalists abducted since 2000[edit]

ABS-CBN's Newsbreak reported that Abu Sayyaf abducted at least 20 journalists since 2000 (mostly foreign journalists) and all of them were eventually released upon payment of ransom.

Ces Drilon and cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama were the latest of its kidnap victims. The journalists held captive were

  1. GMA-7 television reporter Susan Enriquez (April 2000, Basilan, a few days);
  2. 10 Foreign journalists (7 German, 1 French, 1 Australian and 1 Danish, on May 2000, Jolo, for 10 hours);
  3. German Andreas Lorenz of the magazine Der Spiegel (July 2000, Jolo, for 25 days; he was also kidnapped in May);
  4. French television reporter Maryse Burgot and cameraman Jean-Jacques Le Garrec and sound technician Roland Madura (July 2000, Jolo, for 2 months);
  5. ABS-CBN television reporter Maan Macapagal and cameraman Val Cuenca (July 2000, Jolo, for 4 days);
  6. Philippine Daily Inquirer contributor and Net 25 television reporter Arlyn de la Cruz (January 2002, Zamboanga, for 3 months)
  7. GMA-7 television reporter Carlo Lorenzo and cameraman Gilbert Ordiales (September 2002, Jolo, for 6 days).[50]

2009 Red Cross kidnapping[edit]

On January 15, 2009, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) volunteers in Patikul, Sulu province, Philippines. The three ICRC workers had finished conducting field work in Sulu province, located in the southwest of the country, when they were abducted by an unknown group, later confirmed as Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad's group. Parad himself was said to be involved in the kidnapping.[51] All three workers were eventually released. According to a CNN story, Parad was reportedly killed, along with five other militants, in an assault raid by Philippine marines in Sulu province on Sunday, February 21, 2010.

Warren Rodwell[edit]

Warren Rodwell 2014

Warren Rodwell, a former soldier[52] in the Australian Army, and English teacher from Sydney, was seized[53] from his home at Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay on the island of Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, on December 5, 2011[54] by Abu Sayyaf militants.[55] The original ransom demand was for $US2 million.[56] However, after the payment of $AUD94,000[57] by his siblings, Rodwell was released 472 days later on March 23, 2013.[58] By the end of his 15 months as a hostage in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Rodwell had lost about 30 kilograms.[59]

2013 Pom Pom kidnappings[edit]

On November 15, 2013, Abu Sayyaf militants raided a resort on a Malaysian island of Pom Pom in Semporna, Sabah.[60][61] During the ambush, Taiwanese citizen Chang An-wei was kidnapped and her husband, Hsu Li-min, was killed.[62] Chang was taken to the Sulu Archipelago in the southern Philippines.[60] Gene Yu, an American and former US Army Special Forces captain was instrumental in negotiating, locating and working to free Taiwanese citizen Chang An-wei from Abu Sayyaf militants with Filipino special forces and private security contractors in 2013. Chang was freed in Sulu Province and returned to Taiwan on December 21.[63][64][65]

2014 Singamata resort, Baik Island and Kampung Air Sapang fish farm kidnappings[edit]

On April 2, 2014, a group believed from Abu Sayyaf militant raid a resort off Semporna, Sabah.[66][67] During the raid, a Chinese from Shanghai including one Filipino who was on the resort has been kidnapped and taken to the Sulu Archipelago.[66][68] The two hostages was later rescued with a collaboration by the Malaysian and the Philippines security forces.[69][70]

On May 6, 2014, a group comprises five Abu Sayyaf gunmen raid a Malaysian fish farm in Baik Island, Sabah and kidnap the fish farm manager in which the hostage was later brought to the Jolo island.[71][72] He was later freed on July with the help of Malaysian negotiators.[73]

On June 16, 2014, two gunmen believed from Abu Sayyaf group kidnapped a Chinese fish farm manager and one Filipino in Kampung Air Sapang, Kunak, Sabah.[74][75] One of the kidnap victim who is a Filipino fish farm worker managed to escape and goes missing.[76][77] While the fish farm manager has been taken to Jolo.[78]

The Malaysian authorities have identified the Filipinos five "Muktadir brothers" are behind in all of the kidnappings cases before they sell their hostages to the Abu Sayyaf group.[79]

Superferry 14 Bombing[edit]

Main article: Superferry 14

Superferry 14 was a large ferry destroyed by a bomb on February 27, 2004, killing 116 people in the Philippines' worst terrorist attack and the world's deadliest terrorist attack at sea.[80]

On that day, the 10,192 ton ferry was sailing out of Manila, with about 900 passengers and crew. A television set filled with 8 lb. (4 kilograms) of TNT had been placed on board. 90 minutes out of port, the bomb exploded. 63 people were killed immediately and 53 were missing and presumed dead.

Despite claims from terrorist groups, the blast was initially thought to have been an accident, caused by a gas explosion. But after divers righted the ferry five months after it sunk, they found evidence of a bomb blast. Also, a man named Redendo Cain Dellosa admitted to planting the bomb on board for the Abu Sayyaf.

Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced on October 11, 2004, that investigators had concluded the explosion was caused by a bomb.[81] She said six suspects had been arrested in connection with the bombing and that the masterminds, Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Sulaiman, have been killed. But the ASG continues to pose a threat to Philippine security.[82]

List of attacks attributed by Abu Sayyaf[edit]

















The group obtains most of its financing through ransom and extortion.[115] One report estimated its revenues from ransom payments in 2000 alone between $10 and $25 million. According to the State Department, it may also receive funding from radical Islamic benefactors in the Middle East and South Asia.

It was reported that Libya facilitated ransom payments to Abu Sayyaf. Libya was also suggested that Libyan money could possibly be channeled to Abu Sayyaf.[116]

Russian intelligence agencies connected with Victor Bout's planes have reportedly provided Abu Sayyaf with arms.[117][118]

Military Action[edit]

The military has intensified its intelligence operation against the Abu Sayyaf following the arrest of a Filipino-American allegedly selling illegal weapons to the Al-Qaeda linked group. Security forces have arrested Victor Moore Infante in Zamboanga for selling weapons to the extremist group. The 34-year old man was tagged by authorities as "one of the United States most wanted fugitives."

His arrest was made secret and announced by the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation. Infante, who was reported to have traveled to Basilan, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, had been deported to Guam. Federal agents escorted the Filipino-American, who was also suspected of planning to smuggle illegal drugs to the Philippines. United States authorities have issued a warrant for the arrest of Infante in New York after Customs men in July 2003 seized one of his package from Oakland containing weapons’ parts addressed to his safehouse in Zamboanga City.

"His arrest and deportation is another big step in our campaign against terrorism because this man is known to have aided the Abu Sayyaf in acquiring weapons used by the group in committing atrocities against our soldiers and civilians," Philippine immigration chief Andrea Domingo said in a statement.

Targeting the United States[edit]

Most of the Abu Sayyaf victims have been Filipinos. However, non-Filipinos have also been taken hostage for large ransom payment demands. Westerners, especially Americans, have been targeted for political and racial reasons.

In 1993, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped an American Bible translator in the southern Philippines. In 2000, Abu Sayyaf captured an American Muslim visiting Jolo and demanded that the United States release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and Ramzi Yousef, who were jailed for their involvement in the World Trade Center bombing of 1993.

A spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf has stated that, "We have been trying hard to get an American because they may think we are afraid of them." He added, "We want to fight the American people."

British, Canadian, Australian, French, and German tourists have been kidnapped as well.


The Libyan envoy accused the group of inhumanity and violating the tenets of Islam by holding innocent people. Abdul Rajab Azzarouq, former ambassador to the Philippines, criticised the kidnappers for holding people who have nothing to do with the conflict. The hostage-takers should not use religion as a reason to keep the hostages isolated from their families, he said.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Qatar has denounced the kidnapping and killings committed by the Abu Sayyaf towards civilians and foreigners, asserting that they are not part of the dispute between the Abu Sayyaf and the Philippines government. He stated that it is shameful to commit such acts in the name of the Islamic faith, saying that such acts produce backlashes against Islam and Muslims worldwide. It is known that Qaradawi supports the rights of Muslims in Philippines. Qaradawi spoke of the importance of education in the life of Muslims, stating that educational institutions in the Muslim world should review their educational philosophy in order that it may reflect Islamic values aiming to create pious Muslims good to themselves and non-Muslims as well.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) condemned the Sipadan kidnapping and offered to help secure their release. OIC Secretary General Azeddine Laraki who represents the world's largest Islamic body, told the Philippine government he was prepared to send an envoy to help save the hostages and issued a statement condemning the rebels. "The Secretary General has pointed out that this operation and the like are rejected by divine laws and that they are neither the appropriate nor correct means to resolve conflicts," the statement said.

Mark Bowden in a piece in The Atlantic on the Martin and Gracia Burnham kidnapping and captivity, describes the couple as "gently engaged their captors in theological discussion" and finding these jihadists to be shallow, even adolescent, in their faith. Unfamiliar with the Qur'an, the outlaws had only a sketchy notion of Islam, which they saw as a set of behavioral rules, to be violated when it suited them. Kidnapping, murder and theft were justified by their special status as holy warriors. One by one they sexually appropriated several of the women captives, claiming them as "wives".[119]


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