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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:

  1. is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, or assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act (whether or not a terrorist act has occurred or will occur); or
  2. advocates the doing of a terrorist act (whether or not a terrorist act has occurred or will occur).

Background to this listing

The Australian Government first proscribed ASG as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code with effect from 14 November 2002. ASG was re-listed on 5 November 2004, 3 November 2006, 1 November 2008, 29 October 2010 and 12 July 2013.

Terrorist activity of the organisation


ASG remains influenced by its founding objective of creating an independent Islamic state in Mindanao including the Sulu Archipelago. While many recent attacks, including kidnappings, have been largely motivated by financial gain, religious ideology contributes to ASG’s activities, and is incorporated in its messaging and propaganda. Furthermore, the financial gain that is sought by these attacks – particularly kidnappings – is derived from acts carried out to support ASG’s extremist ideological objectives and with the purpose of advancing this ideological cause. ASG Basilan leader Isnilon Hapilon has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and has declared himself Islamic State Emir for the Philippines. 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 been responsible for the planning and conduct of terrorist attacks and kidnappings against a wide range of targets, including Philippine security forces and foreign interests; in Mindanao, including the islands of Basilan, Tawi Tawi and Jolo in the Sulu Archipelago, and Malaysia’s Sabah State.

ASG has been involved in numerous kidnappings in these areas. Kidnappings in recent years off the coast of Palawan and Davao indicate that ASG’s operational reach is expanding beyond its traditional area of operations. Westerners and other wealthy foreign nationals, as well as local politicians, business people, and civilians feature among the broad range of kidnap targets. Kidnappings attributed to ASG since its re listing by the Australian Government as a terrorist organisation on 12 July 2013 include:

  • On 21 September 2015, ASG kidnapped two Canadians, a Norwegian, and a Philippine citizen from a resort on Samal Island near Davao city in eastern Mindanao.
  • In April 2014, two German nationals were kidnapped from their yacht off the coast of Palawan. The ASG released the captives in October 2014 following payment of a ransom.
  • In May 2015, ASG kidnapped two Malaysians from a seafood restaurant in eastern Sabah, Malaysia. In November, one hostage was released and the other beheaded when ransom demands weren’t met.

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

  • In June 2015, 20 ASG members attacked troops who were guarding a water system in Basilan following ASG’s extortion demands that were not met. An ensuing firefight resulted in the death of a civilian auxiliary member, who was later beheaded by ASG.
  • In May 2015, approximately 50 ASG members seized an unmanned police station and telecommunications cell site in Basilan, raising two black flags, one of which was an Islamic State flag. The ASG members rigged the two locations with explosives and then beheaded a local worker. Two ASG members were killed in a subsequent firefight with security services.
  • In September 2015, ASG members kidnapped two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Philippines national from Samal Island, eastern Mindanao.

ASG has been linked to numerous large-scale attacks over the past decade, including the 27 February 2004 bombing of the Superferry 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. Historical attacks attributed to ASG include:

  • 12 July 2011: two US nationals were kidnapped near Zamboanga City by ASG militants
  • 1 February 2012: a Swiss and Dutch national were kidnapped along with their Filipino guide off the Tawi-Tawi islands, Sulu. Following their initial abduction, Philippine authorities stated that the victims were seen in the custody of ASG militants.
  • 28 July 2012: seven soldiers were killed during an armed clash with ASG in the village of Panglayahan, Jolo.
  • 10 July 2012: six rubber plantation workers were killed when suspected ASG fighters ambushed a vehicle ferrying workers in Tumahubong, Basilan.
  • 28 November 2011: three people were killed when an improvised explosive device was detonated at a wedding ceremony in a hotel in Zamboanga City.
  • 10 March 2011: five people were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated outside an elementary school in San Raymundo village, Jolo, Sulu.

ASG has used terrorist tactics and threats to force local and foreign governments into meeting its political and financial demands.

  • In September 2014, ASG threatened to behead one of its two German hostages if the German government did not pay a $USD 5.6 million ransom, and cease its support for the coalition against proscribed terrorist organisation, Islamic State. The German hostages were released in October 2014 following payment of the ransom.

ASG has associated with other terrorist organisations since its founding, including al-Qa’ida and Jemaah Islamiyah. Recently, ASG has been associated with Malaysian jihadists linked to Islamic State, including Mohammad Najib Hussein (now deceased), and Mahmud Ahmad, who are looking to form a South East Asian Islamic State province by working in conjunction with ASG.

Advocating the doing of terrorist acts

ASG Basilan leader Isnilon Hapilon has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and declared himself the overall Emir for Islamic State in the Philippines in a video distributed on 4 January 2016. An official Islamic State newsletter, al-Naba, acknowledged ASG’s pledge of allegiance in its 5 January 2016 issue. There is a substantial risk that ASG’s public support and allegiance to Islamic State, alongside its terrorist activities—including kidnappings, bombings and beheadings—may have the effect of advocating for, or encouraging others to engage in, terrorist acts.

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.


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 Isnilon Hapilon, Radullan Sahiron and Yasser Igasan.


ASG membership totals approximately 400 personnel. 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 poverty-stricken 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

ASG has pledged allegiance to Islamic State; and Islamic State has acknowledged the pledge. ASG Basilan Emir Isnilon Hapilon has declared himself the overall Islamic State Emir for the Philippines. ASG has also been associated with other terrorist organisations since its founding, most notably with al-Qa’ida and Jemaah Islamiyah.

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 attempt targeting an Australian family in Agusan del Sur, north-eastern Mindanao.
  • On 5 December 2011, Australian national Warren Richard Rodwell was abducted from his residence in Ipil, western Mindanao. In a January 2013 proof-of-life video of Mr Rodwell uploaded to YouTube, his captors stated he was being held by members of Al-Harakat Al-Islamiyya (ASG) and that money gained from his kidnapping was to be used for 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 UK and the US.

Engagement in peace or mediation processes

ASG is not involved in any peace or mediation process.


On the basis of the above information, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation assesses ASG continues to be directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts or advocates the doing of terrorist acts, involving threats to human life and serious damage to property.

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

  • cause, or could cause, death, serious harm to persons, serious damage to property, endangered 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.