(Reuters) - The Islamic militant group which still holds one Red Cross worker in the Philippines after two others were freed is one of the smallest but deadliest in the country.
The three International Committee of the Red Cross workers were abducted on January 15 and were being held by Abu Sayyaf rebels in the interior of the remote southern island of Jolo.
Two have been freed and Italian Eugenio Vagni is still being held.
Following are some facts about the group, which is on the U.S. State Department’s blacklist for the abduction and murder of tourists, including Americans:
- The Abu Sayyaf, which translates as “Bearer of the Sword,” was formed in the 1990s by a charismatic Islamic preacher who had returned from Afghanistan after the armies of the former Soviet Union were driven out of the country in 1989.
- The Abu Sayyaf wants an independent Islamic nation in the Philippines, aligning itself with militants who espouse a similar vision of a pan-Islamic super-state in Southeast Asia. It has been linked to al Qaeda and to Jemaah Islamiah.
- The founder and leader of the Abu Sayyaf, Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, was killed in December 1998 in a gunbattle with police and was replaced six months later by his younger brother, Khaddafy Janjalani. Another brother, Hector, is in jail for murder and kidnapping.
- Khaddafy was killed in a clash with soldiers in late 2006.
- Yasser Igasan, a foreign-trained Islamic preacher, was believed to have replaced Khaddafy Janjalani, according to army intelligence. But, the loosely structured Abu Sayyaf also has a nine-member “shura” (council) that makes key decisions.
- Based on the Basilan and Jolo islands off Mindanao, it began with small attacks, targeting Roman Catholic churches, missionaries and nuns but soon graduated to larger-scale assaults as well as high-profile kidnappings of foreigners, including abducting tourists from a Malaysian resort island in 2000.
- A year later it kidnapped tourists and workers from a resort in the western Philippines. Most were released on payment of ransom, but three victims, including an American, were beheaded.
- The group was blamed for the country’s worst militant attack, the bombing of a ferry near Manila Bay in February 2004 that killed more than 100 people.
Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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