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This article appeared in the October 13, 1995 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

Afghansi-linked terror
in the Philippines

by Gail Billington

Abu Sayyaf

Name of group: Abu Sayyaf.

Headquarters: Basilan Island, Sulu Archipelago, Philippines.

Founded: Early 1980s.

Locations of operations, areas active: Mindanao, Philippines.

Major terrorist actions:

  • December 1993: Bombing of Davao Cathedral, Davao, Mindanao; eight killed, scores wounded.

  • June 1994: Ambush of bus, Basilan Island, 17 killed, 43 taken hostage.

  • Dec. 11, 1995: Bombing of PAL airliner, one Japanese passenger killed.

  • January 1995: Assassination threat against Pope John Paul II, Manila, Philippines.

  • April 4, 1995: 200-man land/sea raid on Ipil, Mindanao, 72 killed, 37 hostages. Town center, four banks razed to the ground.

Trademark terror signatures: decapitations; mutilation.

Leaders' names and aliases: Abdurajak Abubakr Janjalani, nickname "Swordbearer" or "Abu Sayyaf"; Amilhussin Jumaani; Edwin Angeles; Asmad Abdul.

Groups allied to nationally or internationally:

Harakat al Islamiya (Sheikh Abdel Rahman), founded in 1994 in Libya. Imam Shafie Institute, Patikul, Sulu Island. Almakdum University, Pitogo, Zamboanga City, Mindanao. Tableegh Jumaat (Association for Propagation of Islamic Faith), Marawi City, Mindanao. Gamma-at-Islamiya (Egypt).

Religious/ideological/ethnic motivating ideology: Creation of an independent Islamic State in Mindanao, southern Philippines.

Known controllers/mentors/theoreticians of: Muammar Qaddafi, Sheikh Abdel Rahman, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, International Islamic Brigades, Afghanistan; Mohammed Jamal Khalifa (Saudi businessman), Tariq Jana (Pakistani businessman, arrested Apr. 1, 1995).

Current number of cadres: Estimated 300-350 guerrillas. Abu Sayyaf recruits, in part, by offering 7-8,000 pesos per recruit, plus firearms training.

Training background: Founder Abdulbakr Janjalani, trained in Libya, is alleged to be head of Philippines chapter of Sheikh Abdel Rahman's Harakat al Islamiya, founded in Libya in 1994. Janjalani and other leaders are members of the International Islamic Brigade, Afghanistan. Former Abu Sayyaf second-in-command Edwin Angeles, who turned himself in under Manila's amnesty program, told Philippines National Police that Abu Sayyaf had training camps in Sabah, Malaysia. In April 1995, Philippines Armed Forces Chief Gen. Enrico Enrile cited intelligence reports showing a "Caucasian, allegedly an ex-U.S. Marine" training Abu Sayyaf members.

In a September 1995 interview with the Indonesian Forum Keadilan, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari said of the Abu Sayyaf leadership, "They were students that received scholarships from us to study [religion] in Libya. After they completed their studies, however, they changed their mind."

Known drug connections/involvement in: April 20, 1995 arrest of 12 suspected Abu Sayyaf members in Quezon City apartment by Philippines National Bureau of Investigation, led to seizure of several high-powered firearms and drugs. Interior Minister Alunan told the Financial Times that arms routes go through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indochina.

Known political supporters/advocates: Libya.

Known funding: International Islamic Relief Organization. Mohammad Jamal Khalifa.

Thumbnail historical profile: Abu Sayyaf's principal relationship is to the global terrorist network of alleged World Trade Center bombers Sheikh Abdel Rahman and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the latter of whom, with Abu Sayyaf, with provided unobstructed transit into and out of the Philippines over a period of years, and facilitated Yousef's bombing of the PAL airliner in December 1994 and the aborted assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II during His Holiness's January 1995 trip to Manila. Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan identified Janjalani as head of the "Philippines chapter" of Sheikh Rahman's Harakat al Islamiya network. Afghansi veteran Abdurajak Abubakr Janjalani has given his nickname "Swordbearer," or Abu Sayyaf, to the newest generation of guerrillas in the Philippines.

There are unsubstantiated reports that Abu Sayyaf leaders include children of MNLF guerrilla leaders killed in the 20-year war to create an autonomous Muslim State in resource-rich Mindanao, a guerrilla war that has claimed 50,000 lives. Allegedly, Abu Sayyaf sought to merge with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in December 1994, but the MILF's leadership rejected, on religious grounds, Abu Sayyaf's use of terrorism against civilians, especially women, children, and the elderly. One MILF official, interviewed by journalist Rigoberto Tiglao, said, "Abu Sayyaf is like those Hezbollah who resent the PLO for agreeing to a peace agreement with the Israelis."

The most spectacular battle in the guerrilla war was the April 4, 1995, two hundred-man land and sea raid on Ipil, Mindanao, attributed to Abu Sayyaf, in part, as a decoy for bringing ashore large weapons shipments, including surface-to-air missiles. Claims of responsibility flew fast and furiously following that incident, in the course of which Moro National Liberation Front leader Nur Misuari conceded that restless "lieutenants" had broken ranks and collaborated with Abu Sayyaf, which supports a claim of responsibility from a new entity, the "Islamic Command Council of the MNLF."

What the MNLF, MILF, and Abu Sayyaf have in common is combat experience in the war in Afghanistan, either personally or by training, and an overlay of political and financial ties to Libya and Saudi Arabia, in particular, and most likely, to training by British Special Forces operatives, "retired" or otherwise. One Ipil guerrilla raider was carrying a passport showing he had been in Saudi Arabia twice since 1990, and had traveled to other Islamic countries.

Abu Sayyaf's official relationship to the MNLF and MILF is ambiguous. Armed Forces of the Philippines officials have repeatedly stated that the MNLF more than "tolerates" Abu Sayyaf on Basilan Island, which both use as a base of operation. Nur Misuari's confession about renegade lieutenants, impatient with Misuari's on-again, off-again peace negotiations with Manila, support the official view. Repeatedly, officials have charged there exists a "tactical" alliance between the MILF and Abu Sayyaf, although MILF leaders deny it.

All three of the Muslim guerrilla organizations, however, benefit financially and logistically from the "Islamicization" of Mindanao and the proliferation of religious and cultural civic organizations. An example is the Tableegh Jumaat, roughly translated as the Association for the Propagation of the Islamic Faith, based in Marawi City, Mindanao; it is a civic movement that seeks to counter western influences and espouses a return to strict Islamic practices. Philippine military-intelligence sources claim Tableegh has up to 300,000 members in Mindanao. Tableegh was founded in the early 1980s by two young Muslim scholars, one Amilhussin Jumaani, at the time freshly returned from studies in Iran. Some time later in the 1980s, Jumaani split from Tableegh, and, with two others, founded the terrorist Abu Sayyaf.

The pattern of funding by Saudi businessman Khalifa shows that at least in some instances, educational, civic, and religious associations in Mindanao are fronts for laundering money into Abu Sayyaf's terrorist operations as part of the broader afghansi global terror network. Khalifa has been linked, in particular, to the Imam Shafie Institute in Patikul, Sulu Island. Press reports, citing government intelligence reports, point to Almakdum University in Pitogo, Zamboanga City, Mindanao, as the intellectual center of "fundamentalism." The university was allegedly revitalized and operated by the International Islamic Relief Organization.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front

Name of group: Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Other names of group: Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF).

Headquarters: A 1970s guerrilla camp, since 1985 known as HQ Camp Abubakre As-Siddique, in central Mindanao, at the border of Maguindanao and Lanao del Norte provinces, is now a fully armed community of 8,000, with two divisions and an elite National Guard, a Sharia court and prison, and an officer training school—the Abdul Rahman Bedis Memorial Military Academy—directed by veterans of the Afghan War with a 20-man faculty.

Other major office/outlet locations: 13 provincial camps in central Mindanao and Basilan, connected to HQ by an advanced communications system.

Founded: Break with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) began with a split of central committee in 1978, to replace Chairman Nur Misuari with Salamat Hashim; the formal break occurred in 1980. According to Misuari, the split resulted from the MNLF's calling for autonomy of Mindanao within the Philippines, but not secession, which the MILF supports.

Locations of operations, areas active: Deploys in seven central provinces of central Mindanao, range of deployment within striking distance of Gen. Santos City (focal point of a regional free-trade zone sponsored also by Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei), Davao, and Cagayan de Oro.

Major terrorist actions:

Press reports suggest that at least 100 major clashes have taken place between MILF/BIAF and government forces in the last nine years.

  • December 1994, armed clash after government forces challenged MILF militia's private "protection" agreement with a South Korean firm, building a $81 million irrigation project in North Cotabato province; 18 government soldiers killed. In February 1995, MILF and government officials signed a "settlement."

Leaders' names and aliases: Ullama and chairman, Salamat Hashim; vice chairman of political affairs, Ghazali Jaafar; vice chairman of military affairs and chief of staff of camp, Abubakre Murad; deputy chief of staff, Sammy al-Mansur Gambar; vice chairman of internal affairs, Alim Mimbantos; "Commander Ronnie," a.k.a. Mohammad Manalos.

Groups allied to nationally or internationally: (See below, section on training background.)

Religious/ideological/ethnic motivating ideology: Secession of Mindanao from the Philippines. Creation of an Islamic State in Mindanao, southern Philippines.

Current numbers of cadres: MILF claims six divisions, totalling 120,000 men, half of whom are under arms. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vice chief of staff says the MILF's military wing, the BIAF, has 6,000 men under arms, but acknowledges MILF five-year plan, "Oplan" ("Zero Hour") to build a 180,000-man force by 1995. MILF's Ghazali Jaafar says they are "on schedule." AFP Brig. Gen. Renato Garcia estimates BIAF strength at 5,000 just in the three Mindanao provinces he oversees—Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, and North Cotabato.

A senior Moro National Liberation Front negotiator told the Financial Times in April 1995 that, if fighting resumed, the government's official figure of 6,000 "would quickly triple."

The MILF is subject to the 1992 cease-fire agreed to with the Manila government, but is not party to the ongoing peace talks.

Training background:

Ullama and Chairman Salamat Hashim trained at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, where, Far Eastern Economic Review journalist Rigoberto Tiglao says, he "was a classmate of many of the ullamas heading Islamic organizations, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan." It is unconfirmed whether he participated in training in Sabah, Malaysia. He is the author of the training manual used at Camp Abubakre OTS, titled The Bangsamoro Mujahid: His Objectives and Responsibilities.

Vice Chairman of Political Affairs Ghazali Jaafar, political science drop-out from Cotabato City's Notre Dame University, is one of a first group of founding MNLF members, along with MNLF head Nur Misuari, who "received training from retired members of the British special forces in Malaysia in the early 1960s," journalist Tiglao reported.

Vice Chairman of Military Affairs and Chief of Staff of Camp Abubakre Murad, senior-year dropout from Notre Dame University in Cotabato City, received two years of training in Sabah, Malaysia in the early 1970s, at the beginning of the MNLF insurgency.

Known arm suppliers/routes: National Intelligence Coordinating Agency reported in 1994 that the MILF had received a weapons shipment including hundreds of Russian-made rocket-propelled RPG-2 grenades, six 75 mm anti-aircraft guns, American-made B40 anti-tank rockets, and 81 mm mortars. An October 1994 delivery took place while government coastal patrol boats were in Leyte for the 50th anniversary celebrations of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's return to the Philippines.

Weapons training at Camp Abubakre includes RPG-2 rocket propelled grenade launchers, machine guns, and mortars, U.S.-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, and Russian-made double-barreled anti-aircraft guns. One instructor at the Camp Abubakre OTS said the ground-to-air Stingers came from "brothers in Afghanistan," who acquired them from American intelligence operatives during the anti-Soviet war. AFP deputy chief of staff confirms that the BIAF has Stingers.

Known funding: Believed to receive substantial funding from Islamic organizations in Pakistan, Malaysia, Middle East, Afghanistan; Chairman Salamat Hashim has made fundraising trips to these countries, perhaps among others. Vice Chairman Jaafar told journalist Tiglao, "Our friends are the Islamic organizations; they are more or less permanent, unlike government leaders who are likely to leave their posts after a few years."

MILF officials also told Tiglao that they receive a large chunk of the 2.5% tithe that Muslims in Mindanao pay to their religious institutions.

Thumbnail historical profile: The MILF is a first-generation splitoff from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the latter of which was organized in 1970 by merging two ethnic Muslim groups, the 1.2 million Tausugs led by current MNLF leader Nur Misuari, which ethnic group is concentrated largely in the Sulu Archipelago, and the 1.6 million Maguindanaos, led by Salamat Hashim, which is spread throughout central Mindanao. The split between these two groups erupted in 1978, when the majority of the MNLF central committee, as well as those based in central Mindanao, voted to oust Misuari from leadership in favor of Hasim, on the grounds that Misuari had not consulted the central committee, and for ethnic bias and nepotism—a lingering charge against Misuari. A central disagreement is that the MNLF seeks an autonomous Muslim Mindanao within the Philippines, while the MILF seeks secession of Mindanao from the Philippines, and establishment of a sovereign Islamic Mindanao.

The first generation of MILF leadership allegedly was part of the first and second generation MNLF leadership groups who received military training in Sabah, Malaysia in the 1960s and 1970s. That first, 1960s, group were allegedly trained by "retired" British SAS officers.

Today, the MILF has a well-elaborated operational structure, sophisticated communications, and is reportedly very well integrated into the civil and secular life of central Mindanao. Reportedly, in addition to the allegiance of the Maguindanaos, the MILF today has the support of the largest Muslim ethnic group, the 1.9 million Maranaos, traditionally a trading community that opposes militancy, but from which comes MILF Vice Chairman for Internal Affairs Alim Mimbantos; it has been successful in winning over and arming other ethnic groups, such as the Muslim Iranon tribe. The MNLF, on the other hand, according to Far Eastern Economic Review, is still overwhelmingly limited to the Tausugs in the Sulu archipelago.

Chairman Salamat Hashim's position as an ullama, and the MILF's constant stress on its "Islamic nature," together with the top-down organizational structure, have led to a situation in which one Mindanao-based journalist described them as follows: "In Islam, religion and State are inseparable; the MILF has emerged as the State among Muslims here. It is practically the equivalent of the Palestine Liberation Organization of Muslims in Mindanao."

The structure of the MILF is: At the top is the Jihad Executive Council, followed by a central committee, and lesser committees down to the barrio level; the second branch includes the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Force, a Sharia justice system, including a supreme court and prison, all based at Camp Abubakre; the third branch is its consultative assembly of 80 people, and is comprised of nominees from each of the 13 regional command organizations and appointees of the central committee. One standing committee is the Da'Wah (Islamic Call), staffed by Muslim religious leaders and charged with deepening the Islamization of recruits, members, and outreach to imams and other Muslim leaders in Mindanao.

Military structure overlaps this civic infiltration. The BIAF has a formal chain of command and 17-man general staff, within which all officers are "commanders"; the officer corps has five levels, ranging from squad commander to division commander. Chief of Staff Murad told journalist Tiglao that at any given time, half of the BIAF is a standing army, while the other half is out earning a living. Soldiers receive nine months' training; officers, two years at the OTS at Camp Abubakre.

The MILF has been excluded from ongoing peace negotiations between Manila and the MNLF. The MILF and MNLF both boycotted the Aquino government's Marawi referendum in 1989, which was run in such as way as to undermine the Tripoli accord that President Ferdinand Marcos had reached with Misuari in 1976 under the auspices of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), which called for giving autonomy to 13 provinces and 9 cities with a Muslim majority, including nearly all of central Mindanao and Palawan Island.

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