Country Reports on Terrorism 2013 - Foreign Terrorist Organizations: Abu Sayyaf Group

aka al Harakat al Islamiyya (the Islamic Movement)

Description: The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 8, 1997. ASG is the most violent of the terrorist groups operating in the Philippines and claims to promote an independent Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. The group split from the much larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the early 1990s under the leadership of Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, who was killed in a clash with Philippine police in December 1998.

Activities: The ASG engages in kidnappings for ransom, bombings, beheadings, assassinations, and extortion. In April 2000, an ASG faction kidnapped 21 people, including 10 Western tourists, from a resort in Malaysia. In May 2001, the ASG kidnapped three U.S. citizens and 17 Philippine nationals from a tourist resort in Palawan, Philippines. Several of the hostages, including U.S. citizen Guillermo Sobero, were murdered. A Philippine military hostage rescue operation in June 2002 freed U.S. hostage Gracia Burnham, but her husband, U.S. national Martin Burnham, and Deborah Yap of the Philippines were killed. Philippine and U.S. authorities blamed the ASG for a bombing near a Philippine military base in Zamboanga in October 2002 that killed a U.S. serviceman. In one of the most destructive acts of maritime violence, the ASG bombed SuperFerry 14 in Manila Bay in February 2004, killing at least 116 people.

In 2013, ASG remained active, particularly with kidnappings for ransom, the use of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, and armed attacks on civilian and police personnel. In May, ASG militants were involved in a gun battle near Patikul, Sulu, which killed seven Philippine Marines and injured nine. In June, ASG kidnapped two sisters filming a documentary in Sulu, and they were still being held at year's end. Two Philippine soldiers were injured in August when a convoy was hit by an IED planted by ASG in Sulu. In November, gunmen linked to ASG attacked a resort on Pom Pom Island, Malaysia, killing a tourist from Taiwan and taking his wife hostage; she was released one month later.

Philippine police conducted a number of raids and arrests of ASG members in 2013. At least eight members of ASG were killed during a firefight with government soldiers after they raided an ASG camp in Basilan in April. In August, one Philippine soldier was killed and two others wounded in a raid against an estimated 70 ASG members in Basilan; seven ASG members were killed and explosive components and rockets were found.

Strength: ASG is estimated to have 400 members.

Location/Area of Operation: The ASG operates primarily in the Philippine provinces of the Sulu Archipelago, namely Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi; and on the Zamboanga Peninsula. The group also operates in Malaysia.

Funding and External Aid: The ASG is funded through kidnapping for ransom operations 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 has also 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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