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 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)

Also known as: Abou Sayaf Armed Band; Abou Sayyef Group; Abu Sayaff Group; Al-Harakat Al-Aslamiya; Al-Harakat Al-Islamiyya; Al-Harakat-ul Al-Islamiyya; Al-Harakatul-Islamia; Mujahideen Commando Freedom Fighters.

This statement is based on publicly available information about the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). To the Australian Government’s knowledge, this information is accurate, reliable and has been corroborated by classified information.

Basis for listing a terrorist organisation

Division 102 of the Criminal Code provides that for an organisation to be listed as a terrorist organisation, the Attorney-General must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation:

  • is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, or assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act; or
  • advocates the doing of a terrorist act

For the purposes of listing a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code, the doing of a terrorist act includes the doing of a specific terrorist act, the doing of more than one terrorist act and the doing of a terrorist act, even if a terrorist act does not occur.

Background to this listing

The Australian Government first proscribed the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code with effect from 14 November 2002. The Abu Sayyaf Group was re-listed on 5 November 2004, 3 November 2006, 1 November 2008, 29 October 2010, 12 July 2013, 28 June 2016 and 10 April 2019.

Terrorist activity of the organisation

Objectives

ASG’s objective, clearly articulated in propaganda and public messaging, is to create an independent Islamic state in Mindanao including the Sulu Archipelago. The group undertakes attacks, including kidnappings, to finance these ideological objectives. Elements of ASG have also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS). Westerners—including Australians—feature among the broad range of kidnap targets.

Directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts

ASG has extensive operational reach and it plans and conducts terrorist attacks and kidnappings against a wide range of targets, including Philippine security forces and foreign interests in areas including Mindanao, Basilan, Tawi Tawi, Jolo, Palawan, Davao and Malaysia’s Sabah State.

Significant recent attacks either claimed by, or reliably attributed to, ASG include the following:

  • On 9 February 2019, ASG members shot and killed a logger in Lauso town in Basilan Province for being unable to say the first of seven verses of the Qur’an.
  • On 17 November 2018, ASG killed five Armed Forces of the Philippines soldiers during a rescue of kidnap victims on the island of Jolo, Sulu.
  • In late January 2018, ASG members ambushed a private vehicle in Patikul killing two people and injuring four others.
  • In late January 2018, ASG attacked and killed two government workers and injured two others in Lamitan, Basilan Province. On 21 August 2017, ASG killed nine and injured 10 civilians in Tubigan village, Maluso, Basilan in an attempt to divert military pressure from its operations bases. During this attack ASG also burned four houses and a health centre.
  • In April 2017, 11 ASG members attempted to conduct a kidnapping and attack in the tourist location of Bohol. During fighting four members of Philippine security services were killed.
  • In early February 2017, a driver/bodyguard of a town mayor and a Scout Ranger were wounded in separate roadside explosions perpetrated by ASG in a village in Tuburan, Basilan on the same day.
  • On 18 December 2016, an 18 year old vendor was wounded after an improvised explosive device went off in the village of Sabong, Lamitan City which according to police was planted by members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.
  • In mid-August 2016, ASG killed 15 Philippine soldiers and wounded 12 others while the soldiers were attempting to rescue a number of kidnap hostages on Jolo Island.

ASG kidnappings in the past few years have to a large degree been motivated by financial gain rather than purely political, religious or ideological purposes – but the proceeds of these attacks are used to support ASG’s operations. ASG typically targets Westerners and other wealthy foreign nationals, as well as local politicians, business people, and civilians. Funding obtained through ransom is especially important for sustaining ASG’s capacity to resist pressure from the Armed Forces of the Philippines counter-insurgency operations. Ransoms obtained in these kidnappings are assessed to be used in pursuit of their ideological objectives financing resources and their ability to operate and control these areas. Kidnappings attributed to ASG since its re listing by the Australian Government as a terrorist organisation on 28 June 2016 include:

  • On 11 September 2018, ASG kidnapped two Indonesian fisherman from the Sabah waters off Semporna.
  • On 20 October 2016, ASG kidnapped the Korean captain and some of the Filipino crew of MV Dongbang Giant 2.
  • In early November 2016, ASG kidnapped a German citizen from his yacht in the Sulu Archipelago. On 11 November 2016, ASG kidnapped six Vietnamese nationals, including the ship’s captain, from MV Royal 16 sailing near Sibago Island, Basilan.
  • In May and June 2016, ASG beheaded two Canadian hostages they kidnapped in 2015 when their ransom was not paid.

ASG has been linked to numerous large-scale attacks over the past decade, including the 27 February 2004 bombing of the Superferry 14 in Manila harbour, killing 114 people, and the 14 February 2005 coordinated bombings in the cities of Makati, Davao, and General Santos, killing 11 people.

Advocating the doing of terrorist acts

ASG has publicly advocated the doing of terrorist attacks. ASG’s adaptation of Islamic State tactics in publicly promoting its operational activities—including kidnappings, bombings and beheadings—may have the effect of advocating for, or encouraging others to engage in, terrorist acts.

  • Throughout 2016 ASG used ISIL tactics, flags and propaganda in publicly available ransom and proof of life videos for Canadian nationals. These tactics were then subsequently used in a 2017 ransom video for a German national.
  • On 27 February 2017, ASG released a video on Telegram of the beheading of the German national kidnapped in November 2016 after the ransom deadline passed.
  • On 18 November 2018, pro-ISIL ASG elements used ISIL’s media entity, Amaq, and released a propaganda video of ASG purportedly engaged in a shoot-out with Philippine military and included the beheading of a Philippine solider.

Details of the organisation

ASG was founded in 1991 as a separatist militant Islamist movement by Filipino national Abdurajak Janjalani. ASG operates in the southern Philippines region of Mindanao, primarily on the islands of Jolo and Basilan in the Sulu archipelago.

Leadership

Since the deaths of several leaders in 2006 and 2007, including former ASG Emir Khadaffy Janjalani, ASG’s leadership structure has been fragmented, comprising loosely-affiliated sub-groups rather than a formal hierarchy. However, a number of key individuals possess extensive experience and lead their own independent operations, including Radullan Sahiron, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, Furuji Indama and Yasser Igasan.

Membership

ASG has approximately 300 personnel but can likely draw on a much larger base of individuals in the Sulu archipelago motivated by the prospect of financial dividends stemming from kidnapping operations. Most members are native to western Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago. However, ASG has periodically provided refuge and utilised the skills of foreign jihadists, including anti-Western jihadists who were involved in the 2002 Bali bombings.

Recruitment and funding

ASG recruits young Muslims from poor areas of western Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago. ASG views kidnap-for-ransom and extortion ventures as profitable operational tactics. Kidnappings, in particular, have been a trademark of ASG since its creation and represent the main funding mechanism for the group. ASG has received funds from other Islamist organisations in the past—including al-Qa’ida and Jemaah Islamiyah—and continues to receive funds from foreign benefactors. ASG also receives support from the local population.

Links to other terrorist organisations

Elements of ASG have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. ASG has associated with other terrorist organisations since its founding, including al-Qa’ida and Jemaah Islamiyah. Recently, elements of the ASG have been associated with the Islamic State East Asia, a proscribed extremist group looking to form a South East Asian Islamic State province. ASG elements were reported in media to be involved in bombing attacks against a Philippines military post near Lamitan township in the Sulu Archipelago on 31 July 2018 and against a Catholic Cathedral in the city of Jolo on 27 January 2019; however we judge these attacks were committed by the Islamic State East Asia.

Links to Australia

Australians are not directly involved in the organisation.

Threats to Australian interests

Westerners—including Australians—feature among the broad range of kidnap targets, primarily due to their potential ransom value.

  • In early November 2015, security forces foiled a planned ASG kidnapping targeting an Australian family in Agusan del Sur, north-eastern Mindanao.
  • On 5 December 2011, Australian national Warren Richard Rodwell was kidnapped from his residence in Ipil, western Mindanao. ASG claimed in a January 2013 in a proof-of-life video of Mr Rodwell his ransom would finance future operations. Mr Rodwell was released by his captors in March 2013.

Listed by the United Nations or like-minded countries

The United Nations Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qaida Sanctions Committee (formerly the United Nations Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee) has designated ASG for targeted financial sanctions and an arms embargo since 6 October 2001. It is listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation by the governments of Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Engagement in peace or mediation processes

ASG is not involved in any peace or mediation process.

Conclusion

On the basis of the above information, ASIO assesses that Abu Sayyaf Group is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts or advocates the doing of terrorist acts.

In the course of pursuing its objectives, ASG is known to have committed or threatened actions that:

  • cause, or could cause, death, serious harm to persons, serious damage to property, endanger life (other than the life of the person taking the action), or create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public;
  • are intended to have those effects;
  • are done with the intention of advancing ASG’s political, religious or ideological causes;
  • are done with the intention of intimidating the government of one or more foreign countries; and
  • are done with the intention of intimidating the public or sections of the public.
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