URGING Congress to hastily pass an anti-terrorism law, the Arroyo government could capitalize on the recently released paper by the Strategic Studies Institute warning about the resurgence of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) as a terrorist organization.
Written by Dr. Zachary Abuza, a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and associate political science professor at Simmons College in Boston, the monograph provides an in-depth analysis of the ASG and sheds light on the triangular relationship between them, the Moro Islamic Liberation front (MILF) and the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
Abuza contends that the ASG, which has degenerated into a bandit group after the death of its founder Abdurrajak Janjalani in 1998, has shifted back to terrorism and cut back on its kidnapping activities. Its systematic campaign of terror, Abuza says, begun in October 2002 when it detonated a bomb that killed a U.S. Special Forces officer. He also cites the SuperFerry bombing in February 2004 reported to have killed 194 people and the triple bombings staged on Valentine’s Day of 2005 across three cities.
ASG’s return to its roots, Abuza, says, is the result of a confluence of internal and external factors. Internally, there was a change in leadership within the organization folowing the capture and deaths of the leaders most responsible for the kidnappings, Abu Sabaya and Ghalib Andang (Kumander Robot). This has allowed Khadaffy Janjalani, younger brother of Abdurrajak, to consolidate his leadership and bring the ASG back to its ideological moorings. Since then, it has been trying to recruit hardline members of the MILF, who are sure to reject an autonomous agreement with the government being worked out in the ongoing peace process.
Reeling from a series of arrests in 2002, the JI, Abuza says, decided to forge closer ties with the Abu Sayyaf and invited the latter to train with them inside MILF camps in Mindanao. The MILF publicly denies the relationship. But Abuza says considerable evidence suggests that the MILF continues to coddle JI and ASG members.
Abuza says the Abu Sayyaf remains a concern because of its willingness to engage in indiscriminate violence against civilian targets and its heightened technical capacity to foment violence. Another cause of concern is Abu Sayyaf’s use of Balik Islam (Return to Islam) converts, who have figured in every major or attempted terror attack in 2004. The network of converts he says, has already extended beyond Mindanao, reaching Luzon and Visayas to greatly broaden the battlefield.
Abuza however insists that despite the Abu Sayyaf’s resurgence, the primary security threat against the Philippine government remains the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army. Despite the MILF’s ties to ASG and JI, he also counsels the United States to continue its support of the peace process and to try weaning the MILF away from its relationship with terrorist organizations.