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The Abu Sayyaf Group: From Mere Banditry to Genuine Terrorism
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Southeast Asian Affairs 2006 THE ABU SAYYAF GROUP From Mere Banditry to Genuine Terrorism Rommel C. Banlaoi Since the Philippine government joined the global war on terrorism, it has been in hot pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). Though government and media sources continue to describe the ASG as a mere bandit group because of the many kidnap-for-ransom activities (KRAs) it perpetrated in the past, the series of bombings that the ASG carried out in 2004 and 2005 were hallmarks of terrorism rather than banditry. Is the ASG mutating from a mere bandit group to a genuine terrorist organization? Much has already been written about the ASG. But there is still little understanding of its exact origin, ideological inclination, organizational structure, leadership dynamics, operational capabilities, and recruitment strategies. This article aims to add value to the ongoing discussions on the ASG by focusing on such issues. It also aims to update the reader on the terrorist attacks conducted by the ASG in 2005 and to describe the Philippine government's counter-terrorism response. The Genesis of the ASG Though it is widely known that Ustadz Abdurajak Janjalani founded the ASG, there is no uniform account of its exact origin.1 According to media reports, the military allegedly formed the ASG in early 1990s to penetrate the ranks of Muslim radicals in Southern Philippines. The ASG reportedly acted as an agent provocateur of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).2 Edwin Angles (aka Ibrahim Yakub), who Rommel C. Banlaoi is a Professor of Political Science at the National Defense College of the Philippines, where he previously served as Vice President for Administrative Affairs and Assistant Vice-President for Research and Special Studies. 248Rommel C. Banlaoi is believed to be Janjalani's co-founder of the ASG, was said to be the deep cover agent for the Defense Intelligence Group (DIG).3 Some sources even said that the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) facilitated the establishment of the ASG4 with the prodding of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).5 A Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader in Basilan even confessed that the ASG enjoyed the support of the military assigned to the area.6 The International Peace Mission that went to Basilan on 23-27 March 2002 found that there were "consistent credible reports that the military and the provincial government are coddling the Abu Sayyaf".7 But the AFP, the Department of National Defence (DND), and NICA have denied all these allegations. ASG leaders too have denied that the Group was a creation of the military. On 18 November 1994 Abu Abdu Said, then known as the ASG Secretary-General, issued an important document entitled "A Voice of Truth" to describe the origin of the ASG. In this document, the ASG strongly denied that it was created by the military. It argued that the ASG was a radical movement aimed at pursuing the establishment of an Islamic State in Southern Philippines. According to intelligence records, the ASG can be traced to disgruntled members of the MNLF who joined the International Islamic Brigade that fought the Soviet forces in Afghanistan from 1980 to 1988.8 After the Afghan war Janjalani and his followers formed a still unnamed group in 1988 to advance the idea of an Iranian-inspired Islamic State in Southern Philippines. In 1989 Janjalani called this group the Mujahideen Commando Freedom Fighters (MCFF), which became the forerunner of the ASG. With the formation of the MCFF, Janjalani officially broke away from the MNLF in 1991. The MCFF was known in Mindanao as "Janjalani's group". Because the nom de guerre of Janjalani during the Afghan war was "Abu Sayyaf", in honour of Afghan resistance leader Professor Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the MCFF eventually became known as Abu Sayyaf's group. Some scholars and journalists mis-translated ASG to mean "bearer of the sword".9 But ASG really means in Arabic, "Father of the Swordsman".10 It was in August 1991 that Janjalani first publicly used the name ASG in connection with the bombing of MIV Doulos, a Christian missionary ship docked at the Zamboanga port in Southern Philippines.11 The bombing of MlV Doulos was a watershed...