Abu Sayyaf has 25-year record of kidnappings and bombings

Abu Sayyaf is a militant group whose leadership swore allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014.

Ostensibly their mandate is to establish an Islamic state and sharia law in the  southern Philippines areas of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. But since its inception, the group has carried out a campaign of kidnappings, bombings and extortion as well as conflict with the Filipino military.

Four hostages, including two Canadians, were kidnapped last September and held by the Abu Sayyaf militants Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the killing of of one of the hostages — former Calgarian John Ridsdel — on Monday.

Canada, the U.S., Britain, Australian and the Philippines, among many countries, consider Abu Sayyaf to be a terrorist group.

Public Safety Canada says the group was formed in the 1990s and has had links to  al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah.

Other names it has been known by, according to Canadian authorities, include:

  • Al Harakat Al Islamiyya (AHAI).
  • Al Harakat-ul Al Islamiyya.
  • Al-Harakatul-Islamia.
  • Al Harakat Al Aslamiya.
  • Abou Sayaf Armed Band (ASAB).
  • Mujahideen Commando Freedom Fighters.

Australian security documents about the group say it is not cohesive, but a network of cells that carry out their own operations.

Its original leader, Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani, a Filipino national who studied in Libya and Saudi Arabia, was killed in a gun battle with police in 1998. From the beginning, Abu Sayyaf carried out a campaign of bombings, mainly targeting Filipino nationals and the military.

Philippines Kidnapped Germans

Soldiers head to the mountains to secure the release of two Germans who were held for six months by the Abu Sayyaf militant group on Oct. 17, 2014. (Nickee Butlangan/Associated Press)

Next to lead the group was Khaddafy Janjalani, a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front, an earlier separatist group, who had been trained in the Middle East. He was killed in 2006, but since then the leadership of the organization has been scattered, according to the Australians.

In July 2014, a video was posted online of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon along with other masked men pledging allegiance to the caliph of an Islamic State.

"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," they say on the video.

The group claimed responsibility for the biggest act of terrorism in the history of the Philippines, planting a bomb on a passenger ferry in February 2004 and sinking the vessel, killing more than 100 people.

Much of the violence by Abu Sayyaf has involved bombings and shootouts with Filipino military. It also sought to undermine peace talks between the government and the Moro separatist movements.

The group raises money to fund its operations through kidnappings and extortion. Copying al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, Abu Sayyaf often threatened to behead hostages if a ransom was not paid.

Among the group's recent actions:

  • December 2011 — Australian national Warren Richard Rodwell was abducted from his residence in Ipil, Mindanao and held for ransom until 2013.
  • February 2012 — a Swiss national and a Dutch national were kidnapped near the Tawi-Tawi islands.
  • July 2014 — the group killed at least 21 Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan on the island of Jolo, reportedly in retaliation for their support of a peace process with the Filipino government.
  • April 2014 — Kidnapped two Germans from their yacht off the western province of Palawan and threatened to kill them if a ransom was not paid. They were held for six months. 
  • May 2015 — A coast guard boat and crew were kidnapped and the captain was found beheaded.
  • November 2015 — Abu Sayyaf beheaded Bernard Then, a Malaysian businessman kidnapped from a seafood restaurant inside Malaysia.

About 90 per cent of the population of the Philippines is Christian and most Filipinos condemn the group. But it has a network of supporters among extended families in Mindanao's Jolo and Basilan regions, according a Stanford University study of the group.

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