Abu Sayyaf – Al-Harakatul Islamia
Abu Sayyaf is the smaller of the Islamist groups fighting to establish an Iranian-style Islamic state in Mindanao, an island in the southern Philippines.
The Abu Sayyaf group, whose name means, “Bearer of the Sword,” split from the Moro National Liberation Front in 1991. Although based almost exclusively in the southern islands, Abu Sayyaf has ties to a number of Islamic fundamentalist organizations around the world, including Osama bin Ladin’s al-Qaida and Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted of organizing the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.
Abduragak Abubakar Janjalani, the former leader of the group, like Osama bin Ladin, was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Abu Sayyaf has a membership of approximately several hundreds of young Islamic radicals, many of whom were recruited from univerities and high schools.
The founder and the leader of Abu Sayyaf until 1998 was Abduragak Abubakar Janjalani. In December 1998, Janjalani was killed in a firefight with police in the village Lamitan in Basilam Island. Janjalani led the group since the 1991 split with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). A veteran of the Afghanistan war, Janjalani kept close ties with other Islamic radical leaders.
After Janjalani’s death a power struggle took place within the organization, with the former leader’s brother, Khadafy Janjalani finally emerging as the new leader.
Abu Sayyaf is estimated to have several hundred active fighters, largely based in the islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in the Philippines’ southernmost section. It is beleived to have roughly a thousand supporters in the southern islands.
The group finances its operations mainly through robbery, piracy and ransom kidnappings. Abu Sayyaf may also receive funding from the international terrorist network of Osama bin Ladin.
Abu Sayyaf never took part in the peace process between the government and the MNLF, demanding an independent Islamic country.
Abu Sayyaf’s activities include bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and extortion from companies and wealthy businessmen in order to attain their aims.
The group’s first major terrorist attack was a grenade attack in 1991, in which two foreign women were killed. The following year Abu Sayyaf militants hurled a bomb at a wharf in the southern city of Zamboanga where the MV Doulous, an international floating bookstore manned by Christian preachers, was docked. Several people were injured.
This attack was followed by similar bombings on Zamboanga airport and Roman Catholic churches. In 1993 the group bombed a cathedral in Davao City, killing seven people.
The group has consitently targeted foriegners for kidnapping. In 1993, Abu Sayyaf gunmen kidnapped Charles Walton, a language researcher at the US-based Summer Institute of Linguistics. Walton, then 61, was freed 23 days later.
The following year, Abu Sayyaf militants kidnapped three Spanish nuns and a Spanish priest in separate incidents. In 1998, their victims included two Hong Kong men, a Malaysian and a Taiwanese grandmother.
In April 1995 Abu Sayyaf carried out a vicious attack on the Christian town of Ipil in Mindanao. Gunmen razed the town center to the ground and shot 53 civilians and soldiers dead. The military said at that time the group has forged links with international terrorist cells.