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Abu Sayyaf Gets New Leader
Selection of Islamic scholar trained in Syria may signal terror group's resurgence
Alex Argote (alexphil)     Print Article 
Published 2007-06-29 10:14 (KST)   
This article was only lightly edited.  <Editor's Note>
The al-Qaida linked Abu Sayyaf, the deadliest Islamic terror group operating in the southern Philippines, has a new leader according to Philippine army top brass.

Yasser Igasan, a native of Jolo Island, was made leader about three weeks ago by ranking members of the terror group during a meeting at a rebel base.

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Lt. Gen. Romero Tolentino of the Philippine army said earlier this week that the government believed Igasan was selected because of his religious background. The new leader, who received lessons from top Islamic clerics in the Middle East, is one of the founding members of Abu Sayyaf.

Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, a veteran of the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, was Abu Sayyaf's first chief and the main inspiration for the group. He was killed during a bloody encounter with Philippine troops in the 1990s. Igasan was one of his top lieutenants.

Abu Sayyaf, which means "bearer of the sword," is viewed by most Filipinos and the world today as a gang of bandits rather than as religious warriors.

The group's original aim was to carve out an independent Islamic state in the island of Mindanao. To that end, it made itself known by blowing up a ship in Zamboanga city and tossing grenades at Christian missionaries.

Violent attacks against Christian churches and schools and the kidnapping of innocent civilians followed as Janjalani and his cohorts forged ahead with religious zeal.

In 1998, Janjalani was killed in a gun battle in Jolo. Without a strong leader to hold the fledging group together, the Abu Sayyaf soon fragmented, its members taking to plain banditry and kidnapping as the group lost focus.

In April 2000, the group, now labeled as terrorists by the United Nations, gained international notoriety with the Sipadan incident, in which several foreign tourists were seized in a Palawan Island resort and hauled to the distant Sulu archipelago in the southernmost tip of the Philippines.

The factions within Abu Sayyaf received an enormous windfall from the Sipadan kidnapping in part due to corrupt Philippine officials who undoubtedly received a share of the ransom money from the Libyan government.

There were rumors of a military connection because of the group's ridiculous narrow escapes from an enormous military dragnet, such as when the main force of the group was trapped in a hospital, where they kidnapped several nurses together with the Burnham couple, but then managed to escape.

With Igasan's rise to the top, come speculations. Some sat that it reflects an internal power struggle among the leaders of squabbling factions. Others say the Islamic scholar's election may mean that Abu Sayyaf is taking up its original aim once again.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alex Argote

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