Philippine Court Outlaws Terrorist Group

Philippine Court Outlaws Terrorist Group

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

A Philippine court has declared the Abu Sayyaf Group a terrorist organization in a ruling that provides the government with another legal weapon against militants who have survived years of government offensives.

Abu Sayyaf is the first militant organization to be officially outlawed in the Southeast Asian country under a rarely used anti-terrorism law. The brutal group, which has targeted Americans and other foreigners, has already been listed as a terrorist group by the United States.

Philippine prosecutors say the terror designation will help the government hunt down and prosecute Abu Sayyaf and get court permission to place suspected militants under surveillance. Officials intend to impose sanctions against members and supporters, making it harder for the militants to receive financial support because of their designation as outlaws.

“This is one more way to turn our country into a hostile ground for terrorists,” state prosecutor Aristotle Reyes said.

He said the court decision was crucial because a number of Abu Sayyaf commanders have expressed allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), although there has been no evidence of any active collaboration or contacts.

Army Brig. Gen. Allan Arrojado, who has commanded sporadic offensives against Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines’ southern Sulu province, welcomed the court ruling and expressed hope that other legal steps would be taken to support counterterrorism forces, including the creation of special courts to speed up terror convictions.

Abu Sayyaf — or Bearer of the Sword — was founded in 1991 on southern Basilan Island. An unwieldy collection of Islamic preachers and outlaws, it vowed to wage jihad, or holy war, but lost its key leaders early in combat, sending it on a violent path of extremism and criminality.

Today, it has degenerated into a few loose factions with about 400 ragtag fighters and no central leader. The group remains resilient and violent, engaging in ransom kidnappings and extortion that have allowed it to survive without considerable backing from foreign extremist groups.

Under the Philippines’ 2007 Human Security Act, the Department of Justice asked a court in Basilan province to ban Abu Sayyaf. The 2007 counterterrorism law, aimed at tackling Islamist militants, gives investigators the authority to arrest terror suspects without warrants and temporarily detain them without charges.

Government prosecutors presented four witnesses, including a former Abu Sayyaf commander who testified how the group planned and committed brutal attacks, such as the 2001 kidnapping of 20 people, including three Americans, at the Dos Palmas resort in western Palawan province.

One of the Americans was beheaded, another was killed during an Army rescue, and the third was wounded but survived.

Judge Danilo Bucoy praised the witnesses in his 20-page decision. “These witnesses deserve praise and commendation for their courage and audacity to stand against this violent, treacherous and vicious organization,” Bucoy wrote.

State prosecutor Peter Medalle said the government could now take steps to outlaw at least three other Muslim militant groups.

They include the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a small group of militants who oppose peace talks with the government and have attacked government troops and civilians, he said.

“This first-ever terrorist designation is a template that we can use for other Muslim armed groups which sow violence and target innocent people,” Medalle said.

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