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Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
Al Harakut Al Islamiyya
Al-Harakatul Islamia
"Bearer of the Sword"
"Sword of God"


The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 8, 1997. The ASG is the smallest and most radical of the Islamic separatist groups operating in the southern Philippines. Some ASG members have studied or worked in the Middle East and developed ties to mjuahidin while fighting and training in Afghanistan. The group split from the Moro National Liberation Front in 1991 under the leadership of Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani, who was killed in a clash with Philippine police on 18 December 1998. Press reports place his younger brother, Khadafi Janjalani, as the nominal leader of the group, which is composed of several factions. The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is the most violent of the Islamic separatist groups operating in the southern Philippines and claims to promote an independent Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.


The group currently has ties to Jemaah Islamiya (JI). The ASG operates mainly in Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi Provinces in the Sulu Archipelago and has a presence on Mindanao. Members also occasionally travel to Manila. The Abu Sayyaf Group engages in bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and extortion to promote an independent Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, areas in the southern Philippines heavily populated by Muslims. In recent years, the Abu Sayyaf has appeared to abandon its ideological roots to become a purely criminal group engaged in kidnapping for ransom, extortion and other activities for financial gain.

ASG raided the town of Ipil in Mindanao in April 1995--the group's first large-scale action. In 2000, armed gunmen associated with the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group based in the southern Philippines took more than 30 foreigners [including a US citizen] from the islands of Sipadan and Pandanan in eastern Sabah and transported them to the Philippines. In May 2001, the ASG kidnapped three US citizens and 17 Filipinos from a resort in Palawan, Philippines, later murdering several of the hostages, including one US citizen. Since then, the Malaysian government has substantially increased its police and military presence in the region, notably near popular Western tourist destinations.

In 2002, the United States and the European Union placed the Abu Sayyaf on their lists of “foreign terrorist organizations.” Moreover, the United States has in the past sent troops and military advisers to assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines (“AFP”) in its conflict with the Abu Sayyaf. In July 2002, the United States and the Republic entered into a sustained military cooperation agreement that provides for annual training exercises involving both Philippine and U.S. soldiers.

On 27 February 2004, members of ASG leader Khadafi Janjalani’s faction bombed a ferry in Manila Bay, killing 116, and on 14 February 2005 they perpetrated simultaneous bombings in the cities of Manila, General Santos, and Davao, killing at least eight and injuring about 150. In July 2005, U.S. and Philippine military forces launched a joint operation in Mindanao to capture the leader of the Abu Sayyaf. In 2006, Janjalani’s faction relocated to Sulu, where it joined forces with local ASG supporters who are providing shelter to fugitive JI members from Indonesia.

In July 2007, members of the ASG and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front engaged a force of Philippine marines on Basilan Island, killing 14. In November 2007, a motorcycle bomb exploded outside the Philippine Congress, killing a Congressman and three staff members. While there was no definitive claim of responsibility, three suspected ASG members were arrested during a subsequent raid on a safehouse. On December 6, 2007, 14 members of the Abu Sayyaf were convicted by a local court of the abductions of an American missionary couple and 18 others in a 2001 kidnapping during which an American missionary was killed.

In January 2009, the ASG kidnapped three International Red Cross workers in Sulu province, holding one of the hostages for six months. On September 29, 2009, two American soldiers and one Filipino soldier were killed in an explosion in the southern Philippine province of Sulu on Jolo Island in Mindanao, an area where the Abu Sayyaf has been active in the past.

Philippine marines in February 2010 killed Albader Parad, one of the ASG’s most violent sub-commanders, on Jolo Island. On January 12, 2011, four traveling merchants and a guide were killed when suspected Abu Sayyaf militants ambushed them in Basilan in Mindanao. The administration of President Aquino has reiterated the Government’s policy of not negotiating with terrorist organizations, including the Abu Sayyaf, and sustained AFP operations continue to weaken the organization. Over the course of 2011, joint AFP and PNP security efforts resulted in the neutralization of 106 Abu Sayyaf members, including 54 who were killed in combat, four who were caught in combat and 48 who were apprehended at check points or otherwise served with arrest warrants.

In 2012, ASG remained active, particularly with kidnappings for ransom, an increase in the use of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, and armed attacks on civilian and police personnel. In January, the ASG was linked to the bombing of a bridge in a town of Sulu province. In March, police linked the ASG to the bombing of a commercial district on the island of Jolo that caused two deaths and 13 injuries. In April, 22 Philippine soldiers were wounded when suspected ASG members detonated an IED while patrolling in Basilan province. In November, police in the southern Philippines thwarted a bomb attack in a heavy populated urban area when they arrested three ASG members and seized two motorcycles, one of which was rigged with explosives.

Philippine police captured or killed a number of ASG leaders in 2012. In February, Philippine police forces arrested Abdulpattah Ismael, who was involved in the 2007 beheadings of 10 Philippine marines and a 2009 prison break, and arrested ASG sub-commander, Abdulhan Ussih. In March 2012, Philippine troops captured ASG militants, Anni Idris and Serham Akalon, who were implicated in beheadings and kidnappings. Despite these successes, sporadic fighting between the AFP and the Abu Sayyaf has continued. For example, on January 18, 2012, one soldier was killed when Government forces clashed with Abu Sayyaf militants in Basilan. Most recently, on July 12, 2012, six rubber tappers were killed and 27 others were wounded when they were ambushed by armed Abu Sayyaf militants in Tumahubong, Basilan.

Muslim militant guerrillas in the Philippines pledged their support to the Islamic State organization that controlled large amounts of Iraq and Syria, terrorizing locals and carrying out mass executions of those not willing to join them. In clips uploaded on YouTube in August 2014, two militant Islamic groups from the south of the Philippines, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Abu Sayyaf rebels, gave their allegiance to the Islamic State. A video by the Abu Sayyaf rebels was uploaded onto YouTube showing a group of about a dozen men standing in a forest clearing with one of their most senior leaders Isnilon Hapilon mentioning the IS leader al-Baghdadi, while reading out a statement pledging their alliance to the Islamic State. Hapilon has a $5 million reward on his head by the US.

The Government supplements its military operations with social initiatives that aim to eradicate the Abu Sayyaf’s support network in areas where the group has traditionally found safe haven. These joint civil-military efforts have included programs such as the Army Literacy Patrol System and the Community Assistance and Rural Empowerment through Social Services and Army Concern on Community Organizing for Development initiatives.

In November 2015, Malaysian police warned that they believed militants in the southern Philippines were trying to form an official IS regional faction and to unite the most high-profile group there, Abu Sayyaf, with others. A video circulating in January 2016 purported to show Abu Sayyaf, Ansar al-Shari'ah Brigade and M'arakat al-Ansar pledging allegiance to IS, and acknowledging Abu Sayyaf's leader, Isnilon Hapilon, as their overall leader. Other groups in the Philippines that had also separately pledged oaths to IS, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines, were not in the video.


ASG was believed to have about 200 core fighters, but more than 2,000 individuals motivated by the prospect of receiving ransom payments for foreign hostages allegedly joined the group in august 2000. By 2014 the group was estimated to have about 400 core fighters.

Location/Area of Operation

The ASG primarily operates in the southern Philippines with members occasionally traveling to Manila, but the group expanded its operations to Malaysia this year when it abducted foreigners from two different resorts.

External Aid

The ASG is funded through kidnapping for ransom and extortion, and may also receive funding from external sources such as remittances from overseas Philippine workers and Middle East-based violent extremists. In the past, the ASG received assistance from regional terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiya, whose operatives provided training to ASG members and helped facilitate several ASG terrorist attacks.

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