It is the smallest Islamic separatist group in the Philippines, but it is also the most extreme. Let's take a look at how the Abu Sayyaf came to be. Philstar.com
Of the three Islamic separatist groups in the Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf may be the smallest but it is also the most extreme.
It has gained notoriety for bombings, assassinations, extortion, and kidnap-for-ransom activities, killing captives if demands are unmet.
Behind the formation of this group was Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, a charismatic Islam preacher.
He was sent to Saudi Arabia and Libya by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to learn Arabic and deepen his knowledge of Islam. There he got radicalized and reportedly met and fought alongside Osama bin Laden against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
His experiences in the Middles East were influential in his desire of establishing an Islamic state in Mindanao.
Abdurajak broke away from the MNLF and created the Abu Sayyaf in 1991, naming it after Afghan resistance leader Professor Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. The name means “father of the swordsman.”
He recruited other disaffected MNLF members, exploiting divisions within the group over government negotiations.
Soon after it was established, the Abu Sayyaf executed major attacks targeting Christians, government troops, and foreigners. It was listed as a terrorist organization by the US Department of State in 1997 and by the Australian National Security in 2002.
In 2001, the United Nations Security Council listed it as having associations with the Al-Qaeda, bin Laden or the Taliban.
Abu Sayyaf experienced a big blow in 1998 when Abdurajak was killed in a police shootout in Basilan.
Two factions were formed after his death. One was headed by Galib Andang alias Commander Robot and the other by Abdurajak’s brother Khadaffy.
The subsequent killings in 2005 and 2006 of these two leaders in clashes with government forces along with the deaths of other key figures led to the further fragmentation of the terror group.
Estimates by the US show that it has 400 members.
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Abdul Basir Latip, the key financial officer of Abu Sayyaf, was also captured in 2009. He was in charge of moving funds from Al Qaeda to the Abu Sayyaf.
As funding from foreign sources declined in mid-1990s, it turned to kidnap-for-ransom and extortion to make money.
Experts say the Abu Sayyaf has evolved into a criminal gang with the rise of profit-driven criminal activities and the decline of ideologically-motivated attacks.
Where are they
The group trains and operates in the Zamboanga Peninsula and in the islands of Basilan, Jolo, and Tawi-Tawi.
According to international security analyst Rommel Banlaoi, the Basilan faction of the Abu Sayyaf is more involved in Islamic propagation activities, while the Sulu faction is more involved in kidnap-for-ransom and extortion activities. He said this in an interview over ANC.
The Basilan faction led by Isnilon Hapilon also pledged allegiance to ISIS, a rival of Al Qaeda, and is no longer under Radullan Sahiron, the most senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf, according to international terrorism expert Dr. Rohan Gunaratna.
But Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said there is no formal ISIS organization in the Philippines.
Historical neglect and injustice in Mindanao helped in the emergence of the Abu Sayyaf as an alternative to the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Data from Philippine Statistics Authority for the first semester of 2015 showed that 11 of the 20 poorest provinces in the country are in Mindanao. These are Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Sarangani, Bukidnon, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga del Norte, Agusan del Sur, North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, and Camiguin.