Abu Sayyaf: 11 things to know about the militant group

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Osama bin Laden allegedly gave $6 million to fund the establishment of the Islamic group when he met the founder, Janjalani when he was in Afghanistan in the 1980s. (image: CC0 Public Domain)

President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of war against a notorious Islamic rebel group is not the first one in the history of the Philippines. In fact, it can be remembered that even the former president Joseph ‘Erap’ Ejercito Estrada waged an offensive fight against another group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) back in March 2000.

Both administrations have cited different motivations why they have chosen a desperate and bloody fight against these rebel groups that have long plagued Mindanao than to continue a more peaceful act through diplomatic talks and non-aggressive negotiations. However, disagreements and continued violence related to these groups hindered such process from being the most realistic option.

Nonetheless, President Duterte proved to be determined when he once again appealed to the Moro rebels to end the war in Mindanao.

“I would like to appeal to all that we should stop this war and bleeding. I will bring the Arab investors here so that you will have no so much dynamics. Just guarantee me that you want to end this fight and let’s talk,” the President said during a visit in Jolo, Sulu.

He expressed a similar hope in the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and believed that there is still a way to finally end the struggle once and for all. In a statement, he stressed that ASG should be clear on whether they want to be seen as an enemy or participate in peace talks with the government.

However, Abu Sayyaf responded with more killings and attacks. Earlier in July, under the order of President Duterte, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) launched an “all-out war” against the group in the southern part of the country.

Things changed dramatically when a bomb exploded at the heart of his home city, Davao, killing and injuring many people. Hours before the tragedy, ASG claimed responsible for the blast but later on emphasized that they have allies who made it possible.

For those of you who are following the news about the said group, we have provided you with some facts that might answer most of your questions:

  1. The name, ‘abu sayyaf’ is derived from the Arabic, ‘abu’ which means ‘father of’ and ‘sayyaf’, a term for ‘swordsmith’ in the said language.
  2. The group’s founder was Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani and when he died in 1998, his younger brother Khadaffy Janjalani led the movement until his death in 2007.
  3. From the 2012 reports, the number of their members are 200-400, a decrease from the year 2000 record when they were estimated to hold 1,250 men.
  4. Their weapons of choice are: improvised explosive devices (IED), automatic rifles and mortars.
  5. Abu Sayyaf is recognized as a terrorist group not only in the Philippines but also by the United Nations. Countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Malaysia, Indonesia, Canada, Australia, and the United States (US) also consider them as terrorists.
  6. Osama Bin Laden allegedly gave $6 million to fund the establishment of the Islamic group when he met the founder, Janjalani when he was in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
  7. Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, the new leader of Abu Sayyaf released a video on July 23, 2014 in which they swore allegiance and oath of loyalty to the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“We pledge to obey him on anything which our hearts desire or not and to value him more than anyone else. We will not take any emir (leader) other than him unless we see in him any obvious act of disbelief that could be questioned by Allah in the hereafter,” Hapilon stated in the said video.

  1. It was in September of the year 2014 when the group started abducting people for ransom in the name of ISIL.
  2. However, unlike the Moro Islamic Liberation front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is not a recognized member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation because of a difference in their ‘political’ motives.
  3. Since 2000, at least 20 journalists were kidnapped by the group which include personalities both from foreign and local media:
  • Ces Drilon and cameramen Angelo Valderama and Jimmy Encarnacion of ABS-CBN.
  • Susan Enriquez of GMA-7.
  • Foreign journalists from Germany, France, Australia and Denmark.
  • Maan Macapagal of ABS-CBN and her cameraman, Val Cuenca.
  • Arlyn de la Cruz of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
  • GMA-7’s cameraman Gilbert Ordiales and reporter Carlo Lorenzo.
  1. The ASG also claimed responsibility for two of the major bombing incidents in the Philippines.
  • The bombing of the Superferry 14 in 2004, killed 116 people. It was considered the worst and deadliest terrorist attack at sea.
  • The latest blast happened in Davao City Night Market where more than ten people died and more than seventy were injured.

The government’s war against the ASG has just begun and the President is confident that this is the only way for Mindanao to achieve a lasting peace not only for the Philippines but also for the people who have long suffered from decades of conflict.

However, a lot of sacrifices have to be made and it includes risking the lives of soldiers deployed to the hottest terrorist spots in Mindanao. Many have fallen and retaliations in the form of bombings targeted to the innocent people outside the war zone are expected.

Even with all the criticisms and opposing views about this new war, President Duterte remains firm, saying that: “We’ll never have peace in that area there… even if you grant them autonomy, and they maintain to be bandits. We will never have peace in that land.”

In a recent speech, he had this to say to the group:

“If they’re (ASG) listening now,.. nawala ang bilib ko sa inyo. Ako may respeto noon, you are fighting for freedom. Tama kayo, there was this historical injustice, committed against the Moro people…But when you began to slaughter people in front of the camera and then now you kill an innocent boy, nawala ang respeto ko sa inyo”.

(“I don’t believe in your ideals anymore. You used to have my respect, you are fighting for freedom. You are right, there was this historical injustice, committed against the Moro people. But when you began to slaughter people in front of the camera and then now you kill an innocent boy, I just lost all my respect for you.)