The Abu Sayyaf — ‘‘Bearer of the Sword’’ in Arabic — was founded with funds and training believed to come from a collection of Asian and Middle Eastern radical groups, including al-Qaida. It came to U.S. attention in 2001 when it kidnapped three Americans, one of whom was beheaded, along with dozens of Filipinos and openly swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s movement.
The kidnappings prompted Washington to deploy hundreds of troops in the south in 2002 to train Philippine forces and share intelligence, helping the military capture or kill most of the Abu Sayyaf’s top commanders. Now without a central leader, the group has less than 400 armed fighters, who the military says are constantly on the run from U.S.-backed local offensives.
Philippine security officials attribute the Abu Sayyaf’s resilience to the difficulty of hunting down small pockets of fighters by soldiers unfamiliar with the vast mountainous jungles of Jolo and outlying islands.