This article is about the Filipino Islamist group. For individuals known as Abu Sayyaf and other uses, see Abu Sayyaf (disambiguation)
Abu Sayyaf (i ; Arabic: جماعة أبو سياف; Jamāʿat Abū Sayyāf, ASG; Filipino: Grupong Abu Sayyaf) is a Jihadist terror group based in and around Jolo and Basilan islands in the southwestern part of the Philippines, where for more than four decades, Moro groups have been engaged in an insurgency for an independent province in the country. The group is considered violent, and was responsible for the Philippines‘ worst terrorist attack, the bombing of Superferry 14 in 2004, which killed 116 people. The name of the group is derived from the Arabic abu (Arabic: أبو) (“father of”), and sayyaf (Arabic: سيّاف) (“swordsmith”). As of 2012, the group was estimated to have between 200 and 400 members, down from 1,250 in 2000. They use mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars, and automatic rifles.
Since its inception in 1991, the group has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and extortion in what they describe as their fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines. They have also been involved in criminal activities, including kidnapping, rape, child sexual assault, forced marriage, drive-by shootings, extortion, and drug trafficking, and the goals of the group “appear to have alternated over time between criminal objectives and a more ideological intent”.
The group has been designated as a terrorist group by the United Nations, Australia, Canada, Indonesia,Malaysia, the Philippines, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 2002, fighting Abu Sayyaf became a mission of the American military’s Operation Enduring Freedom and part of the Global War on Terrorism. 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, they are not allowed to engage in direct combat.
The group was founded by Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani, and led after his death in 1998 by his younger brother Khadaffy Janjalani who was killed in 2007. On 23 July 2014, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Totoni Hapilon swore an oath of loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL. In September 2014, the group began kidnapping people to ransom, in the name of ISIL.
Background and history
In the early 1970s, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was the main Muslim rebel groups fighting in Basilan and Mindanao in the southern Philippines. 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. 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 MNLF in the southern Philippines, made up of members of the extant MNLF. By then, as a political solution in the southern Philippines, ARMM had been established in 1989. Both Abdurajik Abubakar and his younger brother who succeeded him 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.
Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani leadership (1989–1998)
MNLF had moderated into an established political government, the ARMM. It was established in 1989, fully institutionalised 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 MNLF who wanted to resume armed struggle for an independent Islamic state and in 1991 established the Abu Sayyaf. Janjalani was provided some funding by a Saudi Islamist, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, who came to the Philippines in 1987 or 1988 and was head of the Philippine branch of the International Islamic Relief Organization foundation. A defector from Abu Sayyaf told Filipino authorities, “The IIRO was behind the construction of Mosques, school buildings and other livelihood projects” but only “in areas penetrated, highly influenced and controlled by the Abu Sayyaf.” According to the defector “Only 10 to 30% of the foreign funding goes to the legitimate relief and livelihood projects and the rest go to terrorist operations”. Khalifa had married a local woman, Alice “Jameelah” Yabo.
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 18 December 1998, Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani was killed in a gun battle with the Philippine National Police on Basilan Island. He is thought to have been about age 39 at the time of his death. 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. 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 travelling 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 Islamist 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. Abu Sayyaf proclaimed themselves as mujahideen and freedom fighters but are not supported by many people in the Philippines including its Muslim clerics.
Khadaffy Janjalani leadership (1999–2007)
Until his death in a gunbattle on 4 September 2006, Khaddafy Janjalani was considered the nominal leader of the group by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The 23-year-old Khadaffy Janjalani then took leadership of one of Abu Sayyaf’s factions in an internecine struggle. 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.
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. A commander named Abu Sabaya was killed in 2002 while trying to evade forces. Galib Andang, one of the leaders of the group, was captured in Sulu in December 2003. An explosion at a military base in Jolo on 18 February 2006 was blamed on Abu Sayyaf by Brig. General Alexander Aleo, an Army officer. 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. Consequently, on 24 February 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.
Photograph of Jainal Antel Sali, Jr. in 2006. Sali was later killed during a heavy gunfight with the Philippine authorities in 2007.
On 13 December 2006, it was reported that Abu Sayyaf members may have been planning attacks during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (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. On 27 December, 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.
Present time (2010–present)
In a video published in the summer of 2014, senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and other masked men swear their allegiance or “bay’ah” to the “Islamic State” (ISIS) caliph. “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.” For many years prior to this Islamic State’s competitor, Al Qaeda, had the support of Abu Sayyaf “through various connections.” Observers were sceptical of whether the pledge would lead to Abu Sayyaf becoming an ISIS outpost in Southeast Asia, or was simply a way for the group to taking advantage of the international publicity Islamic State is getting.
Supporters and funding
Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani’s first recruits were soldiers of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). However, both MNLF and MILF deny having any 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. 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, and the Philippine government considers the Abu Sayyaf as a part of Jemaah Islamiyah. The government also notes that initial funding for ASG in the 1990s came from al-Qaeda through the brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, through Islamic charities in the region.
Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist Ramzi Yousef operated in the Philippines in the mid-1990s and trained Abu Sayyaf soldiers. The 2002 edition of the United State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism mention links to Al-Qaeda. Continuing ties to Islamist groups in the Middle East indicate that al-Qaeda may be continuing support. As of mid 2005, Jemaah Islamiyah personnel reportedly had trained about 60 Abu Sayyarf cadre in bomb assembling and detonations.
The group obtains most of its financing through ransom and extortion. 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 channelled to Abu Sayyaf. Russian intelligence agencies connected with Victor Bout‘s planes have reportedly provided Abu Sayyaf with arms. In 2014 and since, kidnapping for ransom hasbeen the primary means of funding.
Motivation, beliefs, targets
Filipino Islamist guerillas such as Abu Sayyaf, have been described as “rooted in a distinct class made up of closely knit networks built through marriage of important families through socioeconomic backgrounds and family structures,” according to Michael Buehler, a lecturer in comparative politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. This tight-knit, familial structure provides resilience but also limits their ability to expand. The commander of the Philippines military’s Western Mindanao Command Lieutenant General Rustico Guerrero, also describes Abu Sayyaf as “a local group with a local agenda.” Two kidnapping victims, (Martin and Gracia Burnham) who were kept in captivity by ASG for over a year, “gently engaged their captors in theological discussion” and found Abu Sayyaf fighters to be unfamiliar with the Qur’an. They had only “a sketchy” notion of Islam, which they saw as “a set of behavioural rules, to be violated when it suited them”, according to author Mark Bowden. As “holy warriors, they were justified in kidnapping, killing and stealing. Having sex with women captives was justified by their claiming them as “wives”.
Unlike the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front, the group is not recognised by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and according to author Dr Robert (Bob) East, was seen as “nothing more than a criminal operation” at least prior to 2001. A Center for Strategic and International Studies report by Jack Fellman notes the political rather than religious motivation of ASG. He quotes ASG leader Khadaffy Janjalain’s statement that his brother (the former leader of ASG) was right to split from the more moderate MNLF because “up to now, nothing came out” of attempts to gain more autonomy for Moro Muslims. This suggests, Fellman believes, that ASG “is merely the latest, albeit most violent, iteration of Moro political dissatisfaction that has existed for the last several decades”.
Most Abu Sayyaf members are also “shabu” (methamphetamine) users as been revealed from surviving hostages who saw Abu Sayyaf members taking shabu as well from military findings who found drug packets in many of the abandoned Abu Sayyaf nests that justified their motivation as extreme like criminals and terrorists than truly fighting for religion and their region future. Although if one Abu Sayyaf spokesman claimed he is representing the whole group, its spokesman also lack of knowledge of the activities on other members as the group was separated into many small group with their own leader just like the MNLF as been discovered by a Malaysian journalist, who see the spokesman known as Abu Rami seems did not know the news of their fellow members deaths.
Most of the Abu Sayyaf victims have been Filipinos. However, Australian, British, Canadian, Chinese, French, German, Indonesian and Malaysian tourists, businessmen, sailors, fishermen and police as well as Vietnamese fishermen and sailors have been targeted. Americans in particular have been targeted for political and nationalistic reasons. 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”. 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 Japanese businessman was killed when a Cebu to Tokyo Philippine Airlines flight was bombed on 10 December 1994 by Abu Sayyaf. While the body of 73-year-old Korean hostage Nwi Seong Hong, who had been held by Abu Sayyaf since 24 January 2015 was found in late November of the same year.
Crimes and terrorism
Abu Sayyaf has carried out numerous bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and extortion activities in what they describe as their fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines. These include the 2000 Sipadan kidnappings, the 2001 Dos Palmas kidnappings and the 2004 SuperFerry 14 bombing.
Although the group has engaged in kidnapping hostages to be exchanged for ransom for many years, this means of funding grew dramatically beginning in 2014, providing funds for the group’s rapid growth.
In the Philippines
Journalists abducted since 2000
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
- GMA-7 television reporter Susan Enriquez (April 2000, Basilan, a few days);
- 10 Foreign journalists (7 German, 1 French, 1 Australian and 1 Danish, in May 2000, Jolo, for 10 hours);
- German Andreas Lorenz of the magazine Der Spiegel (July 2000, Jolo, for 25 days; he was also kidnapped in May);
- French television reporter Maryse Burgot and cameraman Jean-Jacques Le Garrec and sound technician Roland Madura (July 2000, Jolo, for 2 months);
- ABS-CBN television reporter Maan Macapagal and cameraman Val Cuenca (July 2000, Jolo, for 4 days);
- Philippine Daily Inquirer contributor and Net 25 television reporter Arlyn de la Cruz (January 2002, Zamboanga, for 3 months)
- GMA-7 television reporter Carlo Lorenzo and cameraman Gilbert Ordiales (September 2002, Jolo, for 6 days).
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 12 April 2001.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.
Martin and Gracia Burnham
On 27 May 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. The hostages and hostage-takers then returned hundreds of kilometres back across the Sulu Sea to the Abu Sayyaf’s territories in Mindanao. 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 that culminated in the Siege of Lamitan and “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.”
On 7 June 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.” Alhamzer Limbong was later killed in a prison uprising. 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”.
2009 Red Cross kidnapping
On 15 January 2009, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegates 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. 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, 21 February 2010.
Survivor Warren Rodwell (2010) prior to abduction by Abu Sayyaf
Warren Richard Rodwell (born 16 June 1958 Homebush NSW) a former soldier in the Australian Army, and university English teacher, grew up in Tamworth NSW. He was shot through the right hand when seized from his home at Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines on 5 December 2011 by Abu Sayyaf (ASG) militants. Rodwell later had to have a finger amputated.
The ASG threatened to behead Rodwell if their ransom demand for $US2 million was not paid. Both the Philippine and Australian governments had strict policies of refusing to pay ransoms. Australia formed a multi-agency task force to assist the Philippine authorities, and liaise with Rodwell’s family. A news blackout was imposed. Filipino politicians helped negotiate the release.After the payment of $AUD94,000 for “board and lodging” expenses by his siblings, Rodwell was released 472 days later on 23 March 2013. The incumbent Australian prime minister praised the Philippines government for securing Rodwell’s release. Tribute was also made to Australian officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Australian Federal Police and Defence. Rodwell subsequently returned to Australia.
As part of the 2015 Australia Day Honours, Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel Paul Joseph Barta was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross (CSC) for outstanding devotion to duty as the Assistant Defence Attaché Manila during the Australian whole of government response to the Rodwell kidnap for ransom (and immediately following, the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan). At the 2015 Australian Federal Police Foundation Day award ceremony in Canberra, fourteen AFP members received the Commissioners’ Group Citation for Conspicuous Conduct for their work in support of the Philippine National Police and Australian Government efforts to release Australian man Warren Rodwell. By the end of his 15 months as a hostage in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Rodwell had lost about 30 kilograms in weight due to starvation, In popular culture, Blue Mountains (Sydney) techno Cowpunk band Mad Cowboy Disease composed, performed and released songs written by Rodwell, based on his ordeal ; Situation Not Normal,Our Sibling Hearts and Eyes of Lies
Rodwell’s biography 472 Days Captive of the Abu Sayyaf – The Survival of Australian Warren Rodwell by independent researcher Dr Robert (Bob) East was published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, United Kingdom (2015) ISBN 1-4438-7058-7. A subsequent book review by Assistant Professor Francis C. Domingo was published by Ateneo de Manila University in the journal Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints – Volume 64, Number 2 (June 2016) ISSN 2244-1093 (Pages 317 – 320).Domingo states that the biography’s main contribution lies in the operational methods and practices of the Abu Sayyaf Group, as well as a focus on the physical, mental, and psychological aspects of Rodwell’s survival techniques.
Award-winning Filipino journalist and CEO of Rappler, Maria A. Ressa wrote at some length about the Warren Rodwell case in the 2013 international edition of her Imperial College Press – published book From Bin Laden to Facebook: 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism ISBN 978-1-908979-53-7 (Refer to Pages 265 – 271) Crowdsourcing for ransom, and social media (such as, Facebook and YouTube) were used by Abu Sayyaf during negotiations. The author asserts on Page 270; “Social media is changing what was once a closed dialogue between kidnappers, their victims and governments.” Also, Colonel (reserve) in the Israel Defence Forces and research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), Dr Shaul Shay, analysed the Warren Rodwell terror abduction in: Global Jihad and The Tactic of Terror Abduction : A Comprehensive Review of Islamic Terrorist Organisations. ISBN 978-1-84519-611-0 (Refer to Chapter 10) (Sussex Academic Press).
Counter-terrorism analyst Dr Edward Mickolus wrote in Terrorism, 2013-2015: A Worldwide Chronology ISBN 978-1-4766-6437-8.  (Pp 218 & 530) (McFarland & Company publisher) of the arrest on 16 June 2014 of two Abu Sayyaf suspects, Jimmy Nurilla (alias Doc) and Bakrin Haris. Both reportedly  worked under Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf leader Khair Mundos and Furuji Indama. Authorities believed Nurilla and Haris took part in the kidnapping of Australian Warren Rodwell in 2011, as well as USA citizen Gerfa Yeatts Lunsman and her son Kevin in 2012.
In January 2015, Mindanao Examiner newspaper reported the arrest of Barahama Ali kidnap gang sub-leaders linked to the kidnapping of Warren Rodwell, who was seized by at least 5 gunmen (disguised as policemen), and eventually handed over or sold by the kidnappers to the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan province. In May, ex-Philippine National Police (PNP) officer Jun A. Malban was arrested in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia for the crime of “Kidnapping for Ransom” after Rodwell identified him as the negotiator/spokesperson of the Abu Sayyaf Group during his captivity. Further PNP investigation revealed that Malban is the cousin of Abu Sayyaf leaders Khair Mundos and his brother Borhan Mundos. (Both were arrested in 2014). The director of the Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) stated that Malban’s arrest resulted from close co-ordination by the PNP, National Bureau of Investigation (Philippines) and Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission with the Malaysian counterparts and through Interpol.
In August 2015, Edeliza Sumbahon Ulep, alias Gina Perez, was arrested at Trento, Agusan del Sur during a joint manhunt operation by police and military units. Ulep was tagged as the ransom courier of the Abu Sayyaf bandits in Zamboanga Sibugay in the kidnapping of Rodwell.
In August 2016, The Manila Times reported the arrest of the kidnap-for-ransom group of Barahama Alih sub-leader, Hasim Calon alias Husien (also a notorious provincial drug dealer), in his hideout in Tenan village in Ipil town. Hasim Calon was involved in the abduction of Warren Rodwell. Earlier in 2016, police forces killed Waning Abdulsalam. a former leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, in the village of Singkilon in the town of Naga, Zamboanga Sibugay. Abdulsalam was one of the most wanted criminals in southern Philippines, and connected also to the Abu Sayyaf. He was linked to the kidnappings of Rodwell in 2011, Irish missionary Michael Sinnott in 2009 in Pagadian City, and Italian Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi in Zamboanga del Sur’s Payao town in 2007.
2015 Samal Island kidnappings
On 21 September 2015, Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel, as well as Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and (Hall’s girlfriend) Marites Flor; a Filipino woman, were all abducted from an upscale resort complex on the Philippine island of Samal near Davao in south eastern Mindanao. Ridsdel was beheaded by Abu Sayyaf on 25 April 2016 following a ransom deadline. ASG reportedly demanded more than $8.1 million for Ridsdel and the others. Former Canadian politician Bob Rae (and friend of Ridsdel), worked with the family to try to secure his release. Rae stated that the Canadian government was “very directly involved” in helping Ridsdel’s family deal with the kidnappers. Abu Sayyaf refused to lower their demand.
On 3 May 2016, a video of the Ridsdel execution was released, along with a new set of demands for the remaining hostages. A masked captor said, “Note to the Philippine government and to the Canadian government: The lesson is clear. John Ridsdel has been beheaded. Now there are three remaining captives here. If you procrastinate once again the negotiations, we will behead this all anytime”.
On 15 May, media reports advised that Canadian Robert Hall had appeared in a new video, announcing that he and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad would be decapitated at 3pm on Monday 13 June 2016 if a ransom of $16 million is not paid. Both hostages wore orange coveralls, similar to hostages in videos produced by ISIL, to which Abu Sayyaf had previously pledged allegiance. The deadline passed. Robert Hall was beheaded.
Canadian newspaper Toronto Star published (from 30 November – 7 December 2016) “Held Hostage”, an eight-part investigation into what really happens when a Canadian is taken hostage abroad. The Star revealed “a system ripe for overhaul”, and ways Canada can change its approach, so it may be more effectively prepared in future.
On 24 June, Abu Sayyaf released Filipina Marites Flor. She was subsequently flown to Davao to meet President-elect Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte said he directed negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf. He did not elaborate.
On 17 September 2016, remaining hostage Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad was released on Jolo island. Abu Ramie, an ASG spokesman, claimed $638,000 was paid as ransom. Sekkingstad subsequently returned to Norway.
2000 Sipadan kidnappings
On 3 May 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. 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 members of the Jesus Miracle Crusade Church offered their help and went as mediators for the relief of other hostages. They, three French television crew members and a German journalist, all visiting Abu Sayyaf on Jolo, were also taken hostage. 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”.
Abu Sayyaf conducted a second raid on the island of Pandanan near Sipadan on 10 September and seized three more Malaysians. The Philippine army launched a major offensive on 16 September 2000, rescuing all remaining hostages, except Filipino dive instructor Roland Ullah. He was eventually freed in 2003. Abu Sayyaf coordinated with the Chinese 14K Triad gang in carrying out the kidnappings. The 14K Triad has militarily supported Abu Sayyaf.
2013 Pom Pom kidnappings
On 15 November 2013, Abu Sayyaf militants raided a resort on a Malaysian island of Pom Pom in Semporna, Sabah. During the ambush, Taiwanese citizen Chang An-wei was kidnapped and her husband, Hsu Li-min, was killed. Chang was taken to the Sulu Archipelago in the southern Philippines. 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 21 December.
2014 Singamata resort, Baik Island and Kampung Air Sapang fish farm kidnappings
On 2 April 2014, a group believed to originate from Abu Sayyaf militants raided a resort off Semporna, Sabah. During the raid, Gao Huayun, a Chinese tourist from Shanghai and Marcy Dayawan, a Filipino resort worker who was on the resort were kidnapped and taken to the Sulu Archipelago. The two hostages were later rescued after a collaboration between the Malaysian and the Philippines security forces. On 6 May, a group comprising five Abu Sayyaf gunmen raided a Malaysian fish farm in Baik Island, Sabah and kidnapped the fish farm manager, after which the hostage was brought to Jolo island. He was later freed on July with the help of Malaysian negotiators. On 16 June, two gunmen believed to be from the Abu Sayyaf group kidnapped another Chinese fish farm manager and one Filipino in Kampung Air Sapang, Kunak, Sabah. One of the kidnap victims, a Filipino fish farm worker, managed to escape and went missing. Meanwhile, the fish farm manager was taken to Jolo. He was later released on 10 December. The Malaysian authorities have identified five Filipinos, the “Muktadir brothers”, as behind all of the kidnapping cases. They then sell their hostages to the Abu Sayyaf group.
Of all the five Muktadil brothers: Mindas Muktadil was killed by Philippine police in Jolo in May 2015, Kadafi Muktadil was arrested in late 2015, Nixon Muktadil and Brown Muktadil was killed during an operation by the Philippine military on 27 September 2016 after they resist for arrest, while Badong Muktadil succumbed to his injuries during his run after being shot at the time his brothers was killed. His body was discovered in a pump boat in Mususiasi area in Siasi Island, close to Jolo.
2015 Ocean Seafood Restaurant kidnappings
On 15 May 2015, four armed men from the Abu Sayyaf-based group abducted two people in a resort in Sandakan, Sabah and brought them to Parang, Sulu. One of the hostage was released on 9 November, after six months in captivity, while another one, Bernard Then, was beheaded due to ransom demands not being met.
Philippines and Malaysia waters
2016 local and foreign sailors kidnappings
On 26 March, ten Indonesian sailors were held hostage by Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf operating in Sulu Archipelago in the southern Philippines. The ten crew members were abducted from the Brahma 12 tugboat and the Anand 12 barge — carrying 7,000 tons of coal — near the country’s southernmost Tawi-Tawi province. The Indonesian vessels were freighting coal from South Borneo heading for Batangas port when hijacked near Sulu waters.
On 1 April, four Malaysian sailors aboard a tugboat from Manila were kidnapped when they arrived near the shore of Ligitan Island. Their companions, three Myanmar nationals and two Indonesians, were unharmed. In the same month, the Indonesian government announced that the company that owned tugboat Brahma 12 had agreed to pay the 50-million-peso ($1 million) ransom demanded for the release of ten Indonesian crew members. On 2 May, the ten Indonesian sailors held hostage were released by their captors. Another four Indonesian sailors were kidnapped when two Indonesian tugboats from Cebu, Henry and Cristi that bore 10 passengers, were attacked by Abu Sayyaf militants on 15 April. While five of the passengers were safe, one was injured after being shot, but he was rescued by operatives from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) when the vessels arrived in Malaysian waters. The four were released on 11 May with the help of the Philippine government. A group of concerned Filipinos in Sabah has urged the Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte to intervene for the release of four Malaysians held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf. The issue has strained the relationship between the Philippines and Malaysia, and has affected the lives of Filipinos in Sabah. The four Malaysian hostages were released on 8 June after nearly two months in captivity. On 21 June, seven Indonesian sailors aboard a tugboat that passing through the Sulu Archipelago was kidnapped. On 9 July, three Indonesians fishermen was kidnapped near the coast of Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia. On 18 July, five Malaysian sailors were also abducted near the coast of Lahad Datu. Another one Indonesian sailor was kidnapped in the waters of Malaysia on 3 August while leaving other two crews unharmed, the incident was only reported by victims on 5 August.Two of the Indonesian sailor hostages have managed to escape from the Abu Sayyaf after persistent threats of beheading.
On 10 September, three Filipino fishermen was kidnapped on the shores of Pom Pom Island in Sabah, Malaysia. The three Indonesians fishermen that were kidnapped on 9 July from Sabah were released on 17 September. Another Indonesian hostage was released on 22 September. On 27 September, one Malaysian boat-skipper was kidnapped from his trawler by seven armed Filipino militants before the group attacked another Indonesian trawler, however, no kidnappings were committed in the second incident. The boat-skipper was released on 1 October, with no ransom having been asked, along with three Indonesians hostages that were released the same day.On 21 October, around 10 Abu Sayyaf militants attack a South Korean-bound vessel named MV Dongbang Gian and abduct a South Korean skipper and a Filipino crewman off Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. On 6 November, a German woman tourist was shot dead while her boyfriend was abducted by Abu Sayyaf militants from their yacht off Tanjong Luuk Pisuk in Sabah. On 11 November, a Vietnamese vessel MV Royale 16 with 19 sailors on board was attacked by Abu Sayyaf near Basilan, abducting 6 sailors and injuring one. The remaining 13 sailors were released. On 20 November, two Indonesian fishermen was kidnapped by five Abu Sayyaf gunmen off Lahad Datu, Sabah, while Philippine military been informed to intercept the bandit.
Due to the increase of attacks against foreign vessels by Abu Sayyaf, the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have agreed to jointly patrol their waters on 5 May 2016. The three countries also have signed another agreement on joint air patrols.
During the first six months of 2016, Abu Sayyaf made $7.3 million, equivalent to Php 353 million, from ransom payoffs according to a Philippine government report.
As part of its kidnap-for-ransom operations, the Abu Sayyaf has executed some of their male hostages if ransom demands were not being met. The group had also previously beheaded Christian civilians and other non-believers of Islam without raising any ransoms for their release, simply due to religious affiliation.
Superferry 14 Bombing
Superferry 14 was a large ferry destroyed by a bomb on 27 February 2004, killing 116 people in the Philippines‘ worst terrorist attack and the world’s deadliest terrorist attack at sea. On that day, the 10,192 ton ferry sailed out of Manila with about 900 passengers and crew on board. 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 instantly and 53 went missing and presumed dead. Despite claims from terrorist groups, the blast was initially thought to have been an accident caused by a gas explosion. However, after divers righted the ferry five months after it had sunk, they found evidence of a bomb blast. A man called Redendo Cain Dellosa also admitted to planting the bomb on board for Abu Sayyaf. Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced on 11 October 2004 that investigators had concluded the explosion was caused by a bomb. She said six suspects had been arrested in connection with the bombing and that the masterminds, Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Sulaiman, have been killed. Despite being shed by two of its leaders, the ASG would continue to pose a threat to Philippine security.
2016 Davao City bombing
On 2 September 2016, an explosion occurred at a night market in Davao City, Philippines resulting in at least 15 deaths and 70 injuries. Shortly before the bombing, the Abu Sayyaf has make a threat following the intensified military operation against them. The Abu Sayyaf through one of its spokesperson Abu Rami have claimed responsibility on the attack according to a report released by local radio station, DZMM. The spokesman later denied the report and any of their involvement in the bombing, saying a group that allied to them; the Daulat Ul-Islamiya who responsible to the attack. Although the Abu Sayyaf spokesman have denied their involvement, the Philippine government have put the blame on Abu Sayyaf based on a statement by the country President that stated:
This is not the first time that Davao has been sacrificed to the altar of violence. It’s always connected with Abu Sayyaf before. They gave a warning. We know that.
Criticism of attacks against civilians
Condemnation from Muslim countries and organisations
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. During the 2000 Sipadan kidnappings, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) condemned the 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.
The terrorism to innocent civilians committed by Abu Sayyaf have been condemned by fellow Moro separatists of MNLF and MILF who said the Abu Sayyaf have gone too far from their real paths of struggle, with MILF labelling Abu Sayyaf as “anti-Islam” soon after the beheading of Canadian hostage John Ridsdel in 2016. While MNLF describing the group as “causing chaos to their community”.
The rampant kidnappings have also been heavily criticised by Indonesia. On 14 July 2016, a group of Indonesian protesters gathered in front of the Philippine Embassy in Indonesia, holding banners that read “Go to hell Philippines and Abu Sayyaf” and “Destroy the Philippines and Abu Sayyaf” due to what was seen as the lack of action from the Philippine government who seems cannot defeating the militant on its own and protecting foreign citizens. The group demanding there should be a large scale military operation to destroy the Abu Sayyaf, of which the Indonesian military before also have proposing to sent their military to Philippines but were rejected by the Philippine government, citing it is against their constitution.
Military operation against Abu Sayyaf
The Philippine military has been engaging the Abu Sayyaf since 1990s as part of its operation in Mindanao. Under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine government are interested to make a peace agreement with the Moro separatists of MNLF and MILF, while the Abu Sayyaf are excluded as they was seen no more than a “bunch of criminals” who terrorise innocent civilians. The Philippine government has pledged to destroy the group to maintain the peace in Mindanao. The Philippine military has intensified their operation more since 2003 following the arrest of a Filipino-American who been alleged to have selling illegal weapons to the group. The suspect has been tagged by the United States authorities as “one of the United States most wanted fugitives” which he was then deported by the Philippine government to facing legal action in the United States.
On 29 July 2016, the Philippine military gained control of one of the Abu Sayyaf strongholds in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan. The Philippine military has pledged that they will continue with more major operations to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf group. The Philippine security forces also collaborating with neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia to maintains the security in the Sulu Sea. On 25 August, President Duterte ordered the group to be “destroyed” after a teenager was beheaded by the extremist group. Since the incident, the Philippine military sent thousands more troops to fight and destroy the Abu Sayyaf. The Filipino Army Major Filemon Tan said, “The order of the president is to search and destroy the Abu Sayyaf so that’s what we are doing”. Both MNLF and MILF also have since helping the government forces to suppress extremism in Mindanao which affecting the peace process for both groups as both want to end their decades wars.
The Indonesian government have proposing before to stationed their army in Mindanao to launch major operation in the southern Philippines to destroy the Abu Sayyaf. The Indonesian government has calling both Malaysian and Philippine armies to launch a combined land attacks together on Mindanao in every Abu Sayyaf nests to wipe them out, while at the same time urging the Philippine government to give a law relaxation to both Indonesia and Malaysia military forces to enter the Philippines territory. The Vietnamese military has also start to holding military exercise and precaution against the Abu Sayyaf (more known locally as “pirates” by the Vietnamese) following the repeat kidnappings of Malaysian and Indonesian sailors by the group. As the Abu Sayyaf is divided between different leaders, the Philippine military has provided one battalion to go against each group. On 9 September, following the meeting between President Duterte and Indonesian President of Joko Widodo, an agreement was reached to pursue the Abu Sayyaf for their persistent terrorism. The Philippine President said in a statement:
We agreed to encourage the earliest and effective implementation of cooperative frameworks to address security issues in maritime areas of common concern. We expressed commitment to take all necessary measures to ensure security in the Sulu Sea and maritime areas of common concern. There will be some interdiction by their armed forces and our armed forces and that is not really a warning but just a statement that we have decided to end this problem once and for all. Unlike the previous agreement with our neighbours, this time we will allows our neighbours to chase ships and pursue them even when they are in Philippine waters – “until such time that there is a competent Philippine authority who will take over in the chase. Maybe what’s in my mind really is the hot pursuit and if the hot pursuit is done in the high seas, in the international waters, they can and they can even arrest or destroy them if they present a violent resistance”. Malaysia will also be involved in this co-operation.
— Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines
However, despite the permission that have been granted by the Philippine government, the government of Indonesia decided to not launching any military operation to southern Philippines, citing the reason was due to there have been enough military personnel been deployed by the Philippine government, with the Malaysian side also shared the similar view to not sending their armies. The Philippine military chief Ricardo Visaya had warned the Abu Sayyaf that they will continue with more further major military operation to stop the rampant lawlessness in the southern Philippines islands. The military chief had giving a notice to any Abu Sayyaf members to surrender or “neutralised”, a term that means getting killed, apprehended or arrested. A mayor in Sumisip of Basilan has support the calling, saying:
It’s time to end this terrorist problem in our country. We want to make Basilan a peaceful place to live so that development will prosper. We are closely working with the [military] to decimate all these terrorist groups.
— Gulam S. Salliman-Hataman, Sumisip Mayor.
This was responded by around 20 Abu Sayyaf who have surrender and giving their arms to the Philippine military in Sumisip on 22 September. A day before, the Philippine armed forces confiscated a total of 200 speedboats used by the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga. President Duterte have reminded that there will be “no amnesty” for Abu Sayyaf despite a proposal by Nur Misuari, the leader of MNLF to include Abu Sayyaf in peace talks as the group have killed too many innocent peoples. The President has told that he will stick to his position for the group to be destroyed. On 27 September, another largest attempt for the smuggling of weapons to the Abu Sayyaf group were busted by the Philippine National Police in San Juan City, Philippines with the arrestment of four people. Until 14 October, the Philippine military has launched 579 massive military operations, 426 of which were focused “to neutralise” the group members. Of all the total operations, 54 lead to armed engagements resulting to 56 Abu Sayyaf members been killed, 21 surrendered, 17 arrested while 94 being neutralised. The total Abu Sayyaf fatalities then increase to 102, with seven more apprehended and a total of 130 been neutralised. Several notable Abu Sayyaf leaders killed during the ongoing operations including Nelson Muktadil, Braun Muktadil, their sub-leader Mohammad Said, Jamiri Jawhari, Musanna Jamiri and the group spokesman Abu Rami. In addition, another 165 fast boats that being used by the Abu Sayyaf for their transport and for their kidnappings activities were also confiscated by the military. Until 13 April 2017, a total of 50 more members of the Abu Sayyaf group have surrendered to the Philippine authorities.
On 26 November, Duterte stated that he will open to peace talks with the Abu Sayyaf group (as he did with the MNLF and MILF by offering federalism as a possible solution)while continue fighting against the Maute group, a move that were criticised by Philippine analyst as it would be used by extreme rebels to claim for legitimacy as a group.In a statement, the President said:
||I can bomb more if I want to. At the end of the day, what can I say to the Filipino? That we have wiped out almost all of our Yakan, Sama, Tausūg brothers? Even those not connected with the violence now? Either we talk, if you want autonomy or if you want something else, federalism, I am ready. I am committed to (a) federalism set-up to appease the Moro.
His statements were also criticised by the country media as leading to a confusion whether he want to make peace talks with the group that have taken so many innocent lives or continue fighting against them, with the Philippine government have been criticised for unable to stop the rampant lawlessness in Mindanao until this day especially with the formation of another IS-linked group, the Maute. On 7 December, Duterte told the Indonesian and Malaysian leaders that “they can bomb the Abu Sayyaf along with the hostages if the Abu Sayyaf continue to present persistent threats and the hostages should already know that there is repeated warnings to not go there”.