Articles

Evolution of the Abu Sayyaf Group: Part 1

The following is Part 1 of the fifth installment of a six-part series written by Victor Taylor, a Philippine national and permanent resident of Canada. His writing is largely informed by his field work and personal experience in being involved in the Muslim areas of the Philippines for the last 50 years. His work provides an insightful first-hand perspective of the development of Islam in the Philippines and the rise of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Philippinen_Basilan_seezigeuner_ph03p42

Image of the island of Basilan in the Philippines where the Abu Sayyaf Group has a strong presence. 

The Early Years

During the time that Abdurajak Janjalani was alive and leading the group, it could be said that the Abu Sayyaf was fairly cohesive and followed a clear path in its undertakings.  This was in large measure due to the charisma of Janjalani and his ability to strike a responsive chord among those who listened to his discourses or khutbas.

As pointed out in the second article in this series, there was a confluence of forces, both domestic and global, which led many within the Muslim community in the Philippines to search for a clear direction to address the oppression and injustice that many felt was their lot in a society ruled by Christians.  The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which had at one point in the 1970s, been at the forefront of the struggle to carve out a Bangsa Moro, a Moro Nation, now was viewed, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as having capitulated and given up on the dream of independence.

True, there was the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which had early on (in the late-1970s) broken away from the MNLF and struck out on its own path, but even the MILF, which proclaimed itself to “launch Jihad in the Way of Allah,”1 was undertaking exploratory talks with the Philippine Government.  Moreover, the MILF was dominated by members of the Maguindanao tribe from mainland Mindanao, while the Basilan and Sulu areas were the home of the Yakan and Tausug tribes.  Tribal loyalties still counted.

In the ZamBaSulTa (Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi) area, Ustadz Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani was seen by many as the leader who remained steadfast in the struggle for a Bangsamoro homeland but even beyond that, a homeland that would be based on the Shariah, the creation of an Islamic State.

Ustadz Janjalani laid the foundation for the struggle.  He explained clearly in his khutbas why Jihad fi-Sabilillah was necessary; why the Jihad had to be Jihad Qital, an armed and bloody struggle; why the MNLF negotiations were flawed from the very outset; how one was to deal with the satruh, the enemy; who was to be considered the enemy; but that all this was to achieve peace, a peace that would bring justice and free Muslims from oppression, all in accordance with the will of Allah.

He attracted the fighters who felt betrayed by their leaders in the MNLF.  This was the case, for example, with Radulan Sahiron, one of the fiercest warriors of the MNLF.  In a conversation that the author had with a former Chief of Staff of the MNLF sometime in 2006, he explained that Radulan came to see him in the early 1990s.  Radulan asked his permission to leave the MNLF, which he had served faithfully and fought for valiantly since the 1970s, in order to follow Ustadz Janjalani.  Radulan explained that he felt that the MNLF had lost its way, that it had strayed from its original goal and that Janjalani was the one showing the way back to the dream of an independent homeland.  The Chief (many still call him that) told Radulan, “If that is what you want, I cannot stop you.”  To this day, Radulan is in the jungles of Sulu, having been the target of massive military operations for several decades now.  He should be in his late 60s or early 70s, but he has not given up the struggle.2  He is the quintessential Tausug warrior.

There were, however, scoundrels as well, fighters who wanted to take advantage of the fearsome reputation the ASG was building up but for their personal gain.  Others were not even part of the ASG, people like the rogue MNLF commander Julhani Jillang (referred to in the fourth article in this series) who undertook his own kidnapping activities but was happy to pass them off as having been undertaken by the ASG.

During these early years, the ASG is said to have received financing from al-Qaeda, principally through a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, who set up a number of businesses and charities that served to funnel funds to militant groups.  In the Philippines, a branch of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) is believed to have been the principal entity through which funds were channeled to the ASG.3  Ramzi Yousef, the  mastermind  of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, was also identified as a benefactor of the ASG.4  Banlaoi makes reference to several militant organizations which are supposed to have provided support to the ASG—he mentions the Hezbollah in Iran, Jamaat I-Islami in Pakistan, Izb-Islami in Afghanistan—but points out that, “The largest assistance allegedly came from the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) operated by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law.”5

A major problem arose, though, when Khalifa was expelled from the Philippines in late 1994 because of links that the Philippine government believed he had with the ASG.  Khalifa was then arrested in the United States during a visit he made there in December 1994 following his expulsion from the Philippines.  US authorities deported him to Jordan where he was to go on trial.  He never returned to the Philippines.  Khalifa was killed under mysterious circumstances in Madagascar in 2007, which foreshadowed the killing of his brother-in-law Osama bin Laden four years later.6

Ramzi Yousef, on the other hand, managed to escape from the Philippines after the Bojinka plot was discovered (discussed in Article 4 in this series).  Yousef was arrested in Pakistan in February of 1995 by the Directorate-General for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan in Islamabad, upon the prodding of the US Government, following which he was rendered to the US for investigation and subsequent trial.  As pointed out earlier in this series, Yousef is now serving a sentence of “life plus 240 years” in a maximum security prison in Colorado.

With their two major sources of funding having been abruptly cut off, analysts point out that the ASG was forced to look for other sources in order to sustain their activities.  This led to a shift in focus from attacks on Christian targets and bombings to kidnapping for ransom.7

The ASG’s situation was further compounded by the death of its principal founder and ideologue, Abdurajak Janjalani, in December of 1998.  Some analysts believe that what unity of purpose and direction may have existed within the ranks of the ASG—often tenuous in guerilla groups— gave way to factionalism.8  This was to be expected in an area where personal loyalties and feudal ties are particularly strong.

The Abu Sayyaf Group as an Organization

It is important to clarify a common misconception about the Abu Sayyaf Group.  Despite the use of the word “Group” in its name, the ASG cannot be seen as a single entity, as a monolithic organization with a clear command and control structure.  Perhaps while Abdurajak Janjalani was alive and leading the group one could say that the ASG was unified under his command, guided by his teachings that provided a framework and a rationalization for its various activities and a sense of direction for its members or adherents.

But with Abdurajak’s death in 1998, the ties that bound the different bands that made up the ASG loosened.  Part of the problem was a weakening of the leadership of the Group.  While Abdurajak’s younger brother, Khadaffy Janjalani, was chosen as Abdurajak’s successor as “Amir” or Leader of the Group, it is said that he did not have the charisma and authority of his elder brother.

But the tenuousness of the Group as an organization lay also in large measure to the nature of social relations within Tausug society.  The anthropologist Thomas Kiefer wrote what can be considered the seminal work on alliances in Tausug society, based on two years living in a barangay (village) on the island of Jolo.  Kiefer observed that:

When Tausug talk about alliance groups of young men who fight together, they very rarely refer to the group as a whole.  In fact there is no commonly accepted term to refer to an alliance group, in spite of their overwhelming importance in Tausug society, although occasionally the phrase “one group who help each other” is used.  It is more common to refer to a group by the name of its leader, as in the phrase “Hamid will help in fighting” in which it is implied that Hamid will not come alone, but will be accompanied by an unspecified number of followers.9

Kiefer further observed that, “Leadership in Tausug alliance based groups is not based upon traditional authority in which the defined status and role of the authority is paramount, but rather upon charismatic authority in which the leader largely defines his own position by the sheer force of his own personality.”10  Furthermore, Kiefer noted that, “Personal loyalty between leaders and followers is much more important than loyalty to the idea of the group as such.”11  In fact Kiefer states that, “It may actually be more accurate not to talk about ‘groups’ at all, but rather ‘networks’ in which each man is connected to every other by a complicated chain of personal ties.”12

Hence, with the death of Abdurajak Janjalani, the ties that held together the various “minimal alliance groups” (as Kiefer would describe them) loosened and several of the groups that had banded together to form the early ASG began pursuing their individual objectives.  In Sulu at that time (late 1990s/early 2000s) there were five prominent commanders: Ghalib Andang (aka Commander Robot), Mujib Susukan, Nadzmi Sabdulla (aka Commander Global, considered to be the main planner of the group), Umbra Jumdail Gumbahali (aka Dr. Abu) and Radulan Sahiron (sometimes referred to as Commander Pukol – not “Putol” as non-Tausug speakers and analysts often say, because of his amputated arm), each with their own band of followers.  Ghalib Andang spearheaded the Sipadan kidnapping incident wherein 21 guests and staff were abducted from a Malaysian resort island and brought to Sulu to be ransomed.

Within the Sulu Abu Sayyaf grouping there appeared to be a divergence of views with regard to kidnapping.  At the time of the Sipadan incident, the author asked a friend to visit the camp where the hostages were being kept to check on their condition.  This friend was quite close to Commander Global and had access to him.  The feedback obtained was that there was almost a violent confrontation between two groups of commanders, Radulan Sahiron and Dr. Abu on the one hand and Commander Robot and Mujib Susukan on the other hand.  Radulan and Dr. Abu wanted political and economic demands to be made—the withdrawal of the government’s military forces from the province of Sulu, the banning of non-Sulu based fishing vessels from operating within provincial waters, the closing down of Christian churches and educational institutions in the province, among others.  Robot and Susukan on the other hand wanted to focus primarily on the demand for ransom.  While initially the political and economic demands were made public, at the end of the day the demand for ransom prevailed, leading to a bonanza for the ASG in Sulu (see Article 4 for a description of the Sipadan incident), averting a shoot-out within the group.

In Basilan there were also five prominent commanders led by Khadaffy Janjalani (nicknamed Daf), Aldam Tilao (better known as Abu Sabaya), Isnilon Hapilon, Jainal Antel Sali Jr. (aka Abu Sulaiman or the Engineer) and Hamsiraji Sali (aka Jose Ramirez).  However, the Basilan ASG bands appeared to have been a little more unified than the Sulu groups.  One of the hostages of the Dos Palmas kidnapping incident observed that:

They were deciding things through a council.  Abu Sabaya was the spokesperson, and the most colorful.  I did not have the impression he was the sole leader.  In fact, the one they called The Engineer (Abu Sulaiman) was more of an influence.  He was the one who negotiated with each one [referring to the Dos Palmas kidnap victims] and the fact that this even happened (9 individual negotiations) seemed to be due to his influence….Janjalani was very quiet.  Isnilon Hapilon seemed to be the religious leader—leading the chants and prayers, preaching to the group.13

It should be noted that the Dos Palmas incident occurred three years after the death of Abdurajak Janjalani.  Moreover, Basilan was the base of Abdurajak and the perpetrators of the Dos Palmas kidnapping were among his closest associates, so it is not surprising that his influence still appeared to pervade among his followers there.  In fact, the Dos Palmas hostage quoted earlier also noted that:

Even at sea they would chant their prayers at dusk, do the ablution, listen to Isnilon who would preach after….they took pains not to touch the women (at least in the beginning till I was released), making us hold on to towelettes when we had to be helped along, given malongs to cover our legs if we were in shorts.14

This interaction among the Basilan-based commanders and the seeming persistence of the influence of Abdurajak Janjalani among them could be seen as late as 2008, a full ten years after Adjurajak’s death.  As recounted in the fourth article in this series, in that year, two Basilan ASG commanders— Puruji Indama and Nurhassan Jamiri—issued an advisory to Basilan Christian residents regarding the need for them to either convert to Islam, pay the Jizya tax or face the consequences of not complying with either of these options.  This was an echo of one of the themes propounded by Abdurajak Janjalani in one of his discourses, “Harb Adda’wa.

Moreover, in that same year, 2008, three of the key commanders in Basilan—Indama, Jamiri and Khair Mundos—collaborated in the kidnapping of two NGO staff members.  While the two were abducted together, Jamiri took custody of one of the victims while Mundos and Indama took custody of the second one.  Negotiators working for the release of both victims were told that they would have to come to an agreement on the first victim before any discussions could be undertaken with regard to the second.

One of the victims recounted after her release how the group holding her (the group of Mundos and Indama) had a fairly consistent daily routine.  The band holding her would say their early morning prayers which would be followed by a khutba by Mundos.  After breakfast, one to two hours would be spent on Arabic lessons followed by the viewing of videos on terrorist attacks elsewhere.15

Hence, contrary to the popular view that the ASG was factionalized and reduced to banditry following the death of Abdurajak Janjalani, it would appear that the Basilan ASG forces continued to adhere to his teachings and maintained a degree of coordination among themselves.

The situation in Sulu, however, appears to be different.  One still has the group of Radulan Sahiron, considered to be the most senior among the ASG commanders on the island, but senior in terms of age and length of affiliation with the Abu Sayyaf, not senior in terms of command over other groups.  There is the group of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the group that held—and subsequently executed—Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, as well as Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad who was released after a year after ransom was paid.  There is the group of Alhabsi Misaya, seemingly one of the busiest of the ASG commanders in terms of the number of persons abducted and held until ransom is paid.  There is the group of Yasser Igasan and Idang Susukan.  There is the group of Aljini Mundoc aka Ninok Sappari, head of the “Lucky 9” Group, who was recently killed by Philippine military and police units in Tawi-Tawi province on February 9, 2017.   There is the group of Alden Bagadi.  And a number of others willing to try their luck and venture out on their own in what is perceived to be a lucrative—though risky—undertaking.

The situation in Sulu seems to be one of a host of bands competing for kidnapping victims, exercising their initiatives with a seemingly entrepreneurial spirit, employing networking skills to extend their reach, outsourcing certain aspects of their venture (as explained in the fourth article of this series), all hoping to “score the big one” as many businessmen hope to do.  While they operate independently of each other, they do come together to support each other when needed, particularly when military operations are launched against a particular band.

Thus, the situation with regard to the ASG is not as clear cut as government authorities make it out to be.  The Basilan-based ASG appear to be holding more closely together than their colleagues in Sulu.  While there appears to be a co-ordination of efforts among individual bands and their commanders in Basilan, there appears to be little co-ordination between the bands in Basilan and those operating in Sulu.  And, as noted earlier, in Sulu itself the various bands operating there follow their own paths, coordinating with each other only when convenient or when prescribed by necessity as when they are under attack by State security forces, following which they disperse to pursue their own initiatives.

Post Abdurajak Janjalani

While, as pointed out earlier, kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) activities of the ASG increased to make up for the decrease of funding from Mohammed Jamal Khalifa and Ramzi Yousef, with high profile kidnapping cases taking place shortly after Abdurajak Janjalani’s death, the ASG, then already under Khadaffy Janjalani, sought to build up its bombing skills during this period.  For this purpose, Khadaffy made arrangements for ASG members to be included in the bomb training courses being undertaken by the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI, an Indonesian terrorist group) in Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) camps on mainland Mindanao.

There had been efforts before to consolidate the ASG and MILF forces or at least enter into some kind of co-operative arrangement, but interestingly, these were rejected by both the ASG and the MILF.  The International Crisis Group (ICG), for example, points out that as early as 1994, an al-Qaeda operative by the name of Omar al-Faruq tried to convince Abdurajak Janjalani to unify the ASG with the MILF but Janjalani declined on the grounds that he felt the MILF was more interested in making money than in undertaking Jihad.16  On the other hand, the MILF was reluctant to work together with the ASG because of “differences over ideology and tactics.”17  This difference was described by a spokesman of the MILF in the following manner:  “Most of their activities are against Islam. We do not sanction most of their activities.”18

In 2001, Khadaffy Janjalani approached Zulkifli, the JI operative assigned to head the Wakalah Hudaibiyah, a military training academy established in Camp Hudaibiyah, an MILF camp set up near the border between the provinces of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur on mainland Mindanao, to try to get ASG members accepted to undergo training in the academy.  Zulkifli agreed on condition that the ASG would accept JI members to undergo practical field experience with the ASG in their areas of activity in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.19

The ICG has described training at Camp Hudaibiyah as having covered basic weapons training using various types of weapons like the .45 calibre pistol, M-1, M-14, M-16, 7.62mm FN FAL assault rifles, M-60, .30 and .50 calibre machineguns, 60mm and 81mm mortars; basic practical explosives training utilizing TNT, C-4, black powder, ammonium nitrate and RDX, detonating cord and detonators, improvised explosive devices using 60mm mortars, combining ammonium nitrate and gasoline, using blasting caps and time fuse components, electrical and non-electrical switches; as well as tactics training to cover such aspects as guarding, observation, maneuver, assault, ambush and withdrawal.20

We described earlier in this series some of the bombing activities undertaken by the ASG and their cohorts during this period:  the Fitmart mall bombing in Gen. Santos City in 2002 done jointly by the ASG, JI and the MILF; the bombing of the Super Ferry 14 in 2004 carried out by a member of the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) under the direction of the ASG; the simultaneous Valentine’s Day tri-bombings carried out in Metro Manila, Davao City and Gen. Santos City in 2005; aside from the series of six bombings undertaken in various places in Basilan between December 2016 and February 2017.  The killing of a US Special Forces soldier in 2002 was done utilizing a bomb rigged to a motorcycle.

In 2003, a series of bombings hit Davao City.  The first, on March 4, involved an IED hidden in a backpack that exploded at the Davao International Airport, killing 22 people and wounding 155 others.  The second bombing incident, on April 3, took place at the Sasa Wharf, a shipping port, killing 16 people and wounding 46 others.21  These incidents it is believed were joint operations of the ASG, JI and MILF.

On February 18, 2006 a bomb exploded at a karaoke bar a hundred meters from the gate of a military camp in Jolo, Sulu, killing one person and wounding 20 others.  The following month, on March 27, 2006, a bomb was set off in a co-operative store in downtown Jolo, killing five persons and wounding 20 others.22  The author recalls being at a meeting at the Provincial Capitol compound some two kilometers away when the coop store blast was heard.  When reports started coming in regarding the bombing, the meeting was adjourned and military and police officers attending the meeting rushed out to go to the scene of the blast.

Clearly, the ASG had built up its bombing capabilities.  This has been interpreted by some analysts as indicating that the ASG had shifted its focus from “criminal” activities to terroristic ones.  Banlaoi, for example, wrote in 2006 that “from mere banditry, Khadaffy Janjalani is reinvigorating the ASG to be a ‘genuine’ Islamic Movement, the Al-Harakatul Al-Islamiya that resorts to terrorism as a political weapon”.23  Abuza speaks of the “regeneration of the ASG as a bona fide terrorist organization in the start of 2004.”24  Zack Fellman, writing for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, refers to the period from 2003 to 2006 as a period of “resurgence of terrorism” on the part of the ASG.25

Neutralization of ASG Leadership

In July 2001, Nadzmi Sabdulla, also known as Commander Global, one of the principal ASG commanders in Sulu, was captured in Gen. Santos City in southern Mindanao.  Sabdulla, who had a P5 million (approximately USD $100,000) bounty offered by the Philippine government, was viewed as the intellectual among the Sulu ASG leaders and was believed to have been the mastermind behind the Sipadan kidnapping incident, which resulted in the abduction of 19 foreigners and two Filipinos from the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan in April 2000.  Two months before he was captured, Sabdulla led a raid on Pearl Farm, a high-end resort on Samal Island in the Davao Gulf, presumably in an attempt to kidnap some resort guests.  The kidnapping attempt was fortunately repulsed by the resort’s security guards.26

Among the major Basilan-based ASG commanders, Abu Sabaya was killed in a joint Philippine Marines-CIA-US Navy Seals operation on June 21, 2002 off the coast of Zamboanga del Norte, exactly two weeks after the rescue of US hostage Gracia Burnham which resulted in the death of her husband Martin and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap who had been held hostage along with them.  The operating team was a 16-man Philippine Marines team.  The CIA participated in the planning, provided logistics and monitored the entire execution of the attack on Abu Sabaya’s group with a high-flying manned aircraft.  Two US Navy Seals teams were on standby to support the Philippine Marines if needed.27

In February 2003, Mujib Susukan, one of the key commanders of the ASG in Sulu who figured prominently in the Sipadan kidnapping incident, was killed in an encounter with the Philippine military outside the town of Talipao, Sulu.  He carried a P5 million (USD $100,000) bounty on his head, offered by the Philippine government.28

In December 2003, Ghalib Andang, more popularly known as Commander Robot and the leader of the group which undertook the Sipadan kidnapping incident, was captured alive but wounded following a firefight with the Philippine military in Jolo, Sulu.  Andang was brought to Manila and incarcerated at Camp Bagong Diwa (New Spirit), a jail housing other ASG detainees to include Commander Global and Alhamzer Manatad Limbong also known as Kosovo, one of the principal persons  involved in the Dos Palmas kidnapping incident.29

Another Basilan-based ASG commander, Hamsiraji Sali, who carried a USD $1 million bounty from the US Rewards for Justice program as well as a P5 million reward from the Philippine government, was killed in April 2004 in an encounter with a Philippine Army Scout Ranger team in Basilan.  The Scout Rangers had been building up intelligence on Sali and were following him for two years before the opportunity came up to attack his group.30

In March 2005, a controversial raid was undertaken by a Special Action Force team of the Philippine National Police on Camp Bagong Diwa, the detention center where ASG prisoners and other detainees were kept.  This was following an attempted jailbreak by six ASG members.  When the smoke cleared, 22 prisoners were found to have been killed—aside from three jail guards and one policeman.  Among the prisoners killed were Commander Robot, Commander Global and Kosovo.31  The raid was controversial because it was deemed to have been unnecessary and excessive in relation to the danger which the jailbreak posed.  Moreover, there were witnesses who claimed that summary executions were carried out on some of the ASG detainees by the Special Action Force.32

In the dawn hours of September 4, 2006, a Philippine Marines Force Reconnaissance team of 27 men managed to eliminate Khadaffy Janjalani, recognized as the Amir or leader of the ASG, based on coordinates provided by the CIA, it is reported.  While the team of Marines initially saw a group of around 40 men with Janjalani in their encampment at Barangay Tugas, Patikul, Sulu, unknown to them there was another ASG group of over 100 men nearby who reinforced Janjalani’s men shortly after the fighting began.  Six of the Marines were killed while 16 others were injured.  It was not until four months later, in January 2007, that it was confirmed that in fact Khadaffy Janjalani had been killed, based on DNA testing undertaken by the American FBI after Janjalani’s body was exhumed in December 2006.33

In the early morning of January 16, 2007, Abu Solaiman, considered the principal planner of the Basilan ASG’s major undertakings such as the Dos Palmas kidnapping incident, was killed in a raid launched by the 8th Special Forces Company of the Philippine Army on his hideout in the crater of Bud (Mount) Daho on Jolo Island in Sulu.  This was supposed to be the result of joint psy-ops (psychological operations) efforts on the part of Philippine security forces and US military forces assisting them, resulting in a member of Abu Solaiman’s group providing the authorities his cellphone number, with US sig-int (signals intelligence) subsequently pinpointing his location.34  Three days after the death of Abu Solaiman, the FBI released its report confirming that the body that had been dug up the previous month was that of Khadaffy Janjalani, the Amir of the ASG, killed in the raid undertaken by the Philippine Marines Force Recon team on September 4th of the previous year.

As a result of the killing of Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Solaiman, the persons who provided the information that led to their deaths received a total of USD $10 million from the US Department of State Rewards for Justice Program.  Janjalani and Abu Solaiman each carried a $5 million bounty on their heads.35  This was over and above rewards offered by the Philippine Government for these two ASG leaders:  P10 million (USD $200,000) for Janjalani and P5 million (USD $100,000) for Abu Solaiman.

Thus, by the early part of 2007, of the top leadership of the ASG in Basilan—Abdurajak Janjalani, Khadaffy Janjalani, Abu Sabaya, Abu Solaiman, Hamsiraji Sali and Isnilon Hapilon— only Isnilon Hapilon remained.  In Sulu, of the top leadership—Commander Robot, Commander Global, Mujib Susukan, Radulan Sahiron and Dr. Abu—only the last two remained.  But their ranks were to be reduced further.

Around 3 a.m. of February 2, 2012, massive explosions rocked a forested area in Barangay (Village) Lanao Dakula in the municipality of Parang on Jolo Island.  These were “smart” bombs dropped by two OV10 aircraft of the Philippine Air Force aimed at eliminating three key militants—Zulkifli bin Hir (also known as Marwan), a top ranking Malaysian connected with the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM), a Jemaah Islamiya (JI) affiliated organization,  who carried a USD $5 million bounty from the US government; Abdullah Ali (also known as Muawiyah), a Singaporean JI member who carried a USD $500,000 reward; and Dr. Abu of the ASG.36  While initially the Armed Forces of the Philippines announced that all three had been killed, it later turned out that Marwan and Muawiyah no longer were in the area when the bombs were dropped, and it was only Dr. Abu along with some 15 other ASG members who were killed in the attack.37  Thus by early 2012, Radulan Sahiron was the remaining ranking member of the ASG in Sulu, in like manner as Isnilon Hapilon who was left in Basilan.

But new leaders had come up in the meantime, men who had followers of various numbers with guns and who were eager to join the fray, more often than not venture into the lucrative area of kidnapping for ransom.  In Basilan there were Puruji Indama and Nurhassan Jamiri who were notorious for their KFR activities and the lesser known but influential Khair Mundos who served as the ideological guide for the ASG forces.  Mundos also reportedly served as an intermediary for funding from al-Qaeda to the ASG in the early 2000s.

In Sulu a host of “leaders” cropped up.  There were Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan—the head of the group which held (and eventually killed) Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall as well as Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad who was subsequently released, Alhabsi Misaya who has held most of the Indonesian and Malaysian sailors who were kidnapped last year, Yassir Igasan who at one time was rumored to have taken over as Amir of the ASG (but actually did not) when Khadaffy Janjalani was killed, Ninok Sappari who reportedly held German Jurgen Kantner until he (Sappari) was killed by security forces on February 9 of this year, Hairula Asbang (who died in January of 2017 from wounds incurred in fighting  Philippine security forces last year), Idang Susukan and a number of others.

Hence, it can be said that the ASG, despite the best efforts of Philippine security forces assisted by security agencies of other countries, and despite assessments and announcements that the Group is near extinction, is still very much alive.

 

References


  1. Interview of Salamat Hashim, Chairman of the MILF, with Nida’ul Islam (The Call of Islam Magazine Online), sometime 1997, https://fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/ph2.htm.
  2. There have been recent (mid-April 2017) reports that Radulan has sent out surrender feelers because of his old age. It remains to be seen whether these are in fact true or part of the Philippine military’s “psy-ops” efforts to sow demoralization within the ASG ranks. There have been many efforts in the past initiated by the government to try to get him to surrender.
  3. History Commons, “Complete 911 Timeline: Mohammed Jamal Khalifa”, www.historycommons.org/timeline.jsp?timeline=complete_911_timeline&other_al-qaeda_operatives=complete_911_timeline_mohammed_jamal_khalife.
  4. Manny Mogato, “One-armed man now top Philippine militant – army”, Washington Post, January 22, 2007, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/21/AR2007012100156_pf.html.
  5. Rommel Banlaoi, “The Abu Sayyaf Group: From Mere Banditry to Genuine Terrorism?”, Southeast Asian Affairs, 2006.
  6. Bill Roggio, “Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, killed in Madagascar, FDD’s Long War Journal,January 31, 2007, www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2007/01/mohammed_jamal_khalifa.php.
  7. See, for example, Zachary Abuza, “Balik-Terrorism: The Return of the Abu Sayyaf”, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Strategic Studies Institute, Army War College, 2005) page 7.
  8. Banlaoi, for example, says that “the death of Abdurajak Janjalani…marked the waning of the ideological luster of the ASG. With no ideological beacon to unify the group, the ASG became factionalised. Some factions degenerated into bandit groups engaged in predatory activities like kidnap-for-ransom activities (KRA), smuggling operations of arms and drugs, and extortion activities”, Rommel C. Banlaoi, “The Pull of Terrorism: A Philippine Case Study”, Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT), (Ministry of Foreign Affairs Malaysia), www.searcct.gov.my/component/content/article?id=62.
  9. Thomas M. Kiefer, The Tausug: Violence and Law in a Philippine Moslem Society, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc., 1972), page 71.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Op cit, page 75.
  12. Op cit., page 71.
  13. Personal communication with the author via email.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Personal discussion between the author and the victim.
  16. InternationalCrisis Group, “Southern Philippines Backgrounder: Terrorism and the Peace Process”, ICG Asia Report No. 80, 13 July 2004, page 22.
  17. Zachary Abuza, “Balik-Terrorism: The Return of the Abu Sayyaf”, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Strategic Studies Institute 2005) page 14.
  18. Ibid.
  19. International Crisis Group, ibid.
  20. International Crisis Group, op cit, page 16.
  21. Rappler, “A history of bombings in Davao City”, September 4, 2016, www.rappler.com/nation/145158-history-bombings-davao-city.
  22. Philippine Star, “Jolo blast: Cathedral was original target”, March 29, 2006, www.philstar.com:8080/headlines/328652/jolo-blast-cathedral-was-original-target.
  23. Rommel C. Banlaoi, “The Abu Sayyaf Group: From Mere Banditry to Terrorism?”, Southeast Asian Affairs 2006, page 32.
  24. Abuza, ibid., page 36. The Filipino term Abuza uses in the title of his monograph – “Balik-Terrorism” – means “a return to terrorism”.
  25. Zack Fellman, “Abu Sayyaf Group”, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Al Qaeda and Associated Movements (AQAM) Futures Project, Case Study No. 5, November 2011.
  26. “Abu’s Commander Global captured in General Santos City”, Sun*Star Zamboanga,www.lazamboangatimes.com/abu_sayyaf.html.
  27. Mark Bowden provides a detailed description of the operation in a write-up in the March 2007 issue of The Atlantic Monthly in his article “Jihadists in Paradise.”
  28. “Top Abu Sayyaf Leader Dies from Battle”, Huron Daily Tribune,February 18, 2003, www.michigansthumb.com/news/article/Top-Abu-Sayyaf-Leader-Dies-From-Battle-7344127.php.
  29. “Abu Sayyaf commander held”, BBC News, December 8, 2003, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3300369.stm.
  30. Jonathan Mayuga, “Buan: ex-NPA captive now Abu’s nemesis” www.oocities.org/strike-musings/news/buan.html. Also see the section on the Philippines in the US Department of State Country Reports on Terrorism dated April 27, 2005, https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/45388.htm.
  31. “Commander Robot among 23 killed in prison siege”, Sydney Morning Herald, March 15, 2005, www.smh.com.au/news/World/Commander-Robot-among-23-killed-in-prison-siege/2005/03/15/1110649185247.html.
  32. See, for example, a report on the findings of the government’s Commission on Human Rights, “CHR finds police response to Bicutan siege ‘excessive’”, The PCIJ Blog, March 27, 2006, pcij.org/blog/2006/03/27/chr-finds-police-response-to-bicutan-siege-excessive. See also, Napoleon C. Reyes and Michael S. Vaughn, “Revisiting the Bicutan Siege: Police Use of Force in a Maximum Security Detention Center in the Philippines”, International Criminal Justice Review, Vol. 19 No. 1, pages 25-45, Georgia State Research Foundation Inc., citseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.909.9011&rep=rep1&type=pdf.
  33. James Mananghaya & Roel Pareno, “Outnumbered Marines recall clash that killed Janjalani”, Philippine Star, January 24, 2007. An irreverent but detailed recounting of the mission can be found in “Abu Sayyaf Armed Contacts for the Fourth Quarter of 2011, Part II: Resurrection of the Abu Sayyaf Urban Terrorist Group, Part 2.”
  34. “Palace, AFP confirm death of Abu Solaiman”, GMA News Online, January 17, 2007, www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/27174/news/nation/palace-afp-confirm-death-of-abu-solaiman. See also, Linda Robinson, Patrick B. Johnston, Gillian S. Oak, “U.S. Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, 2001-2014”, (Sta. Monica, California: Rand Corporation, 2016), pages 54-55, for a description of the US involvement in the Abu Solaiman operation.
  35. U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, “Rewards for Justice Pays $10 Million in Philippines’ Ceremony: $5-Million Reward Each Paid for Two Abu Sayyaf Terrorist Leaders”, June 7, 2007, https://2001-2009.state.gov/m/ds/rls/86180.htm.
  36. Jim Gomez, Associated Press, “Philippines using US smart bombs”, Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 22, 2012, newsinfo.inquirer.net/165819/philippines-using-us-smart-bombs. The author has attached a short note at the end of this article on the process undergone leading to the development of this capability within the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
  37. Maria A. Ressa, “2 JI leaders now in MILF territory – reports”, Rappler, July 17, 2012, www.rappler.com/nation/8719-jemaah-islamiyah-leaders-in-central-mindanao-classified-documents-amp-maps. The author has included at the end of this article a short note describing how the capability of the Philippine Air Force to undertake this attack was developed.
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Victor Taylor
Victor Taylor has been involved in the Muslim areas of the Philippines for the past 50 years. He has lived in the province of Sulu and has worked in the government, civil society and business sectors of the Philippines. In recent years, he has assisted efforts to effect the release of five captives of the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG). He is currently involved in assisting a community of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) upgrade their social and economic condition. Victor is a Philippine national and currently a Permanent Resident of Canada residing in Toronto.