Abu Sayyaf Group

Founded in the early 1990s as a Filipino Muslim (Moro) terrorist organization, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) emerged as a more violent Islamist alternative to the stagnated political movements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). ASG strove to create an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. Abdurajak Janjalani, the group’s leader, drew on personal relationships with members of al Qaeda core and directed ASG to begin bombing predominantly Christian targets in 1991. In 1995, Philippine forces were able to kill Janjalani, which forced the weakened group to take up kidnapping-for-ransom operations in lieu of high-profile terrorist bombings.

By the early 2000s, government counterterrorism operations had eliminated most ASG commanders vying for control of the group. The resulting leadership vacuum enabled Abdurajak Janjalani’s younger brother, Khadaffy Janjalani, to consolidate control of ASG. Buttressed by operational and monetary support from Southeast Asian terrorist groups like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the younger Janjalani redirected ASG to begin bombing again in late 2003. Large-scale bombings ended with Janjalani’s death in September 2006. His death, during the U.S.-backed opera­tion Oplan Ultimatum, sent the group again into disarray. Given ASG’s current lack of group structure, it is difficult to differentiate between criminal and terrorist activities in the underdeveloped and undergoverned southern Philip­pines. While Abu Sayyaf is currently weak, Moro politi­cal discontent persists and could catalyze future Islamist terrorism.