Small Wars Journal

TSG Intel Brief: The Philippines Battles Abu Sayyaf

Wed, 04/13/2016 - 10:05am

The Philippines Battles Abu Sayyaf - The Soufan Group Intel Brief

Bottom Line Up Front:

• On April 9, militants from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) ambushed a Filipino military unit on the remote southern island of Basilan, killing 18 soldiers

• The Filipino soldiers were part of an operation to kill or capture ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon and free several foreign hostages held by the group

• Formerly allied with al-Qaeda, ASG pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in the summer of 2014

• The losses suffered by the Filipino military demonstrate the difficulty of uprooting entrenched localized insurgencies. 

Continue on for the entire brief.



Thu, 04/14/2016 - 5:59pm


Warren Richard Rodwell (born 16 June 1958[74] Homebush NSW)[75] a former soldier[76] in the Australian Army, and university English teacher,[77] grew up in Tamworth NSW[78] He was shot through the right hand when seized[79] from his home at Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines on 5 December 2011[80] by Abu Sayyaf (ASG) militants.[81] Rodwell later had to have a finger amputated.[82]

The ASG threatened to behead Rodwell[83] if the original ransom demand for $US2 million was not paid.[84] Both the Philippine and Australian governments had strict policies of refusing to pay ransoms.[85] Australia formed a multi-agency task force to assist the Philippine authorities, and liaise with Rodwell's family.[86] A news blackout was imposed.[87] Filipino politicians helped negotiate the release.[88] After the payment of $AUD94,000[89] for "board and lodging" expenses[90] by his siblings, Rodwell was released 472 days later on 23 March 2013.[91] The incumbent Australian prime minister praised the Philippines government for securing Rodwell's release. Tribute was also made to Australian officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Australian Federal Police and Defence.[92] Rodwell subsequently returned to Australia.[93]

As part of the 2015 Australia Day Honours, Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel Paul Joseph Barta was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross (CSC) for outstanding devotion to duty as the Assistant Defence Attaché Manila during the Australian whole of government response to the Rodwell kidnap for ransom (and immediately following, the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan). At the 2015 Australian Federal Police Foundation Day award ceremony in Canberra, fourteen AFP members received the Commissioners’ Group Citation for Conspicuous Conduct for their work in support of the Philippine National Police and Australian Government efforts to release Australian man Warren Rodwell.[94]

By the end of his 15 months as a hostage in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Rodwell had lost about 30 kilograms in weight due to starvation,[95] His biography 472 Days Captive of the Abu Sayyaf - The Survival of Australian Warren Rodwell by independent researcher Dr Robert (Bob) East was published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, United Kingdom (2015) ISBN 1-4438-7058-7[96] In popular culture, Blue Mountains (Sydney) techno Cowpunk band Mad Cowboy Disease composed, performed and released Situation Not Normal, a song written by Rodwell, based on his ordeal.[97]

Award-winning Filipino journalist and CEO of Rappler,[98] Maria A. Ressa wrote at some length about the Warren Rodwell case in the 2013 international edition of her Imperial College Press - published book From Bin Laden to Facebook: 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism ISBN 978-1-908979-53-7 [99] (Refer to Pages 265 - 271) Crowdsourcing for ransom, and social media (such as, Facebook and YouTube) were used by Abu Sayyaf during negotiations. The author asserts on Page 270; "Social media is changing what was once a closed dialogue between kidnappers, their victims and governments."

Also, Colonel (reserve) in the Israel Defence Forces and research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), Dr Shaul Shay, analysed the Warren Rodwell terror abduction in: Global Jihad and The Tactic of Terror Abduction : A Comprehensive Review of Islamic Terrorist Organisations. ISBN 978-1-84519-611-0 (Refer to Chapter 10) (Sussex Academic Press). [100]

In January 2015, Mindanao Examiner newspaper reported the arrest of Barahama Ali[101] kidnap gang sub-leaders linked to the kidnapping of Warren Rodwell, who was seized by at least 5 gunmen (disguised as policemen), and eventually handed over or sold by the kidnappers to the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan province.[102]

In May 2015, ex-Philippine National Police (PNP) officer Jun A. Malban was arrested in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia for the crime of "Kidnapping for Ransom" after Rodwell identified him as the negotiator/spokesperson of the Abu Sayyaf Group during his captivity. Further PNP investigation revealed that Malban is the cousin of Abu Sayyaf leaders Khair Mundos and his brother Borhan Mundos. (Both were arrested in 2014).[103] The director of the Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) stated that Malban's arrest resulted from close co-ordination by the PNP, National Bureau of Investigation (Philippines) and Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission with the Malaysian counterparts and through Interpol.[104]

In August 2015, Edeliza Sumbahon Ulep,[105] alias Gina Perez, was arrested at Trento, Agusan del Sur during a joint manhunt operation by police and military units. Ulep was tagged as the ransom courier of the Abu Sayyaf bandits in Zamboanga Sibugay in the kidnapping of Rodwell.[106]

Source: Wikipedia


Thu, 04/14/2016 - 5:55pm

Timeline of the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines - The Abu Sayyaf Islamic militant group has terrorised the southern Philippines and nearby areas with a trail of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings since the 1990s.

Retired Italian Catholic priest Rolando Del Torchio, believed to have been kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf six months ago, was released on Friday 8th April 2016 on a remote island infamous as a stronghold of the group.

The following is a timeline of the Abu Sayyaf's rise and rampage:

-- Early 1990s: Libya-trained preacher Abdurajak Janjalani forms the Abu Sayyaf (Bearer of the Sword) with young Muslims disaffected by an older generation of guerrillas.

The new group is backed by seed money from a local charity run by Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

-- April 4, 1995: Hundreds of its gunmen sack the southern town of Ipil, leaving more than 50 people dead.

-- December 18, 1998: Janjalani is killed in a clash with security forces on the island of Basilan and is replaced by younger brother, Khadaffy Janjalani. He is killed in September 2006.

-- April 23, 2000: The group makes its first known foreign sortie, snatching 10 Western tourists and 11 Asians from the Sipadan island resort, off Malaysian Borneo.

The hostages are freed in August 2001, with the westerners flown to Tripoli aboard a jet sent by then Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, who is said to have paid millions of dollars in ransom.

-- May 27, 2001: Three Americans are among 20 people snatched from a western Philippine island resort. One of them, tourist Guillermo Sobero, is beheaded 13 months later. Most of the local hostages are ransomed off.

One of the other Americans, Christian missionary Martin Burnham, and a Filipina hostage are killed in a military operation in June 2002. But Burnham's wife is rescued.

-- February 27, 2004: The Abu Sayyaf firebombs a ferry on Manila Bay, killing 116 people in the country's deadliest terrorist attack.

-- March 15, 2005: Philippine police crush a violent overnight riot at a Manila prison, killing 17 Abu Sayyaf men including four leaders standing trial for the Sipadan kidnappings and the ferry bombing.

-- July 10, 2007: The Abu Sayyaf and fighters from the mainstream guerrilla group Moro Islamic Liberation Front kill 14 Filipino marines on Basilan, beheading 10 of them.

-- December 5, 2011: The Abu Sayyaf abducts Australian ex-soldier Warren Rodwell at his southern Philippine home. He is freed unharmed in March 2013 after a reported ransom of nearly $100,000 is paid.

-- February 1, 2012: Two bird watchers, a Dutchman and a Swiss, are abducted in the Tawi-Tawi island group. The Swiss escapes from the Abu Sayyaf in December 2014.

-- April 25, 2014: German couple Stefan Okonek and Henrike Dielen are abducted while aboard a yacht sailing off the western island of Palawan. The couple are ransomed off six months later.

-- Sometime in mid-2014: Isnilon Hapilon, who has a $5-million bounty on his head by the US government, becomes the first of several senior Abu Sayyaf leader to pledge allegiance to Islamic State jihadists fighting in Iraq and Syria.

-- May 14, 2015: Malaysian tourist Bernard Then and restaurant manager Thien Nyuk Fun are seized in the Malaysian port of Sandakan.

The woman is released in November, reportedly after a ransom was paid. But the Abu Sayyaf beheaded the man as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was in the Philippines attending a regional summit.

-- September 21, 2015: Canadian tourists John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad, and Hall's Filipina girlfriend are seized from yachts docked at a resort on Samal island, hundreds of kilometres from the Abu Sayyaf strongholds.

Last month the kidnappers set an April 8 ransom deadline, threatening to behead the hostages. The deadline passes with no word about their fate.

-- October 7, 2015: Del Torchio is kidnapped at his pizza restaurant on the southern city of Dipolog, also far from the Abu Sayyaf strongholds. Though no group claimed responsibility, security analysts say the Abu Sayyaf is likely responsible.

-- March 26, 2016: Ten Indonesian sailors are seized as their tugboat pulls a barge carrying coal off Malaysian Borneo. The vessel's owners say the Abu Sayyaf has demanded a ransom.

April 1, 2016 -- Gunmen on speedboats seize four Malaysians from the east coast of Sabah state. The Malaysian authorities describe the gunmen as Filipino.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 04/14/2016 - 2:57pm

It serves us well to keep in the back of one's mind that the Algerian Salafist insurgency was basically floundering for a number of years until they linked into IS...since then they have developed into a seriously capable insurgency capable of taking on the Algerian security and military.

Anyone who thinks for a minute or two will realize IS will funnel fighters into and out of the a given as that is their TTP over and over...following the motto if it works why change it..

The sooner one plans for it...the better it will be for a counter insurgent...if one waits to see if it develops...then it is to late as then the counter insurgent is playing catch up....


Fri, 04/22/2016 - 3:17am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

A few analysts, notably Rohan Gunaratna, are beating the IS drum as loudly as possible, but as an issue it seems a largely overblown distraction to me. What we are seeing is existing groups making public declarations of loyalty to IS, and IS responding by acknowledging their existence. So far there is no public evidence of actual support or cooperation, and little suggestion that these groups are any more dangerous than thy were before they posed with a black flag.

To me the problem is less the presence of IS than the persistent failure of th Philippine Government to address the underlying drivers of insurgency in the area. Insurgency is at a low point not because the issues are gone, but because the collapse of the MNLF and the erratic nature of ASG have left the Tausug, Sama, and Yakan communities without any viable leadership or organization. That vacuum will eventually be filled.

Dave Maxwell

Wed, 04/13/2016 - 8:21pm

In response to The Soufan Group report I sent ot my national security listserv I received these comments from a good friend in the Philippines who spent his career in Law Enforcement and Intelligence.

QUOTE: I have a great deal of respect for Ali Soufan and the Soufan Group. Their report is accurate. I remain concerned about the acts of the Abu Sayyaf Group. BUT I temper that with some context. They are vastly reduced in size of actual hard members. They still get wide assistance from family and relationship based ''supporters.'' Those people are not necessarily ideological supporters but aid in some way due to social obligations. The ASG is largely confined to Basilan and Jolo. They don't have core reach the way they used to have. None of the groups in that region do. As the central government has improved schools, elections, roads to markets, and other governance issues the support for these people has withered. ASG's claim of allegiance to Daesh is still unclear as to scope, meaning and impact. Which way does money flow? We're not really sure. What fighters have gone to,Stria etc for training? We're not clear. Soufan raises good points, but I'm not raising my blood pressure. Yet. END QUOTE