Abu Sayyaf Group

Abu Sayyaf becoming a thing of the past, Wesmincom chief claims

Frencie Carreon

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Abu Sayyaf becoming a thing of the past, Wesmincom chief claims

NEARLY A SPENT FORCE. Western Mindanao Command chief Marine Brigadier General Arturo Rojas claims the Abu Sayyaf has nearly become a spent force.

Frencie Carreon / Rappler

The Abu Sayyaf's 'zero kidnapping rate' in 2022 indicates that the extremist group is becoming a thing of the past, says Western Mindanao Command chief

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines – The year 2022 ended with neither an abduction nor hostage taken by the dreaded Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and other areas in Western Mindanao, a record that bolstered the military’s claims that the notorious extremist group has nearly become a spent force.

Marine Brigadier General Arturo Rojas, chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), said on Wednesday, January 4, that the Abu Sayyaf’s “zero kidnapping rate” in 2022, the decline in the number of its members, and the weakening of its units meant that the once feared Jihadist and pirate group was fast becoming a thing of the past.

He attributed this to the strengthening of the military’s defense strategy aimed at preventing extremely violent crimes such as those committed in the past by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

The ASG was responsible for some of the worst terrorist attacks in Mindanao, and abductions in the late 1990s and early 2000s, many of which ended up in hostages being brutally killed, and some even beheaded.

Today, Rojas said, southwestern Mindanao has virtually become Abu Sayyaf-free, with only a few ASG members “on the loose” in the hinterlands of Sulu province.

Rojas said pressure applied by the 11th Infantry Division in Sulu reduced the Abu Sayyaf Group’s abduction attempts “to a clear zero.”

He said the 102nd Infantry Brigade in the Zamboanga Peninsula and the 2nd Marine Brigade in Tawi-Tawi province stepped up security operations to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from operating in these areas. 

Rojas said the Zamboanga Peninsula region and Tawi-Tawi have become Abu Sayyaf-free.

”It has been three years now that Tawi-Tawi and the [southwestern] borders of the archipelago have been free of violent extremism,” he said.

Basilan province, he said, was also considered by Wesmincom as Abu Sayyaf-free now based on the military’s parameters which include controlled and influenced areas, local support, international funding, safe havens, and recruitment, among others.

There had been clashes between government troops and smaller ASG units though, the last of which took place in Sulu on December 18, 2022. 

The encounter took place in the village of Kaunayan in Patikul, Sulu, when troops under the 8th Scout Rangers Company were pursuing five ASG members under ASG bombmaker Mudzrimar Sawadjaan alias Mundi, a fugitive linked to the bombing of the Jolo Cathedral on January 27, 2019. 

The military said the pursuit operations resulted in a 10-minute clash with an Abu Sayyaf unit that left a soldier identified as Private 1st Class Jerwin Caputol dead. Another soldier, PFC. Elmar Barrios, was also wounded.

Rojas claimed the Scout Rangers killed and wounded Abu Sayyaf members, but he could not say exactly how many.

Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan said he was hopeful that Sulu would officially become Abu Sayyaf-free so local officials and the national government could start working to give the province’s tourism sector a boost. – Rappler.com

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