The Abu Sayyaf-Al Qaeda Connection

ByABC News
December 14, 2001, 6:31 PM

Dec. 20, 2001 -- U.S. officials believe there are strong historic links between Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network and the Philippines' decade-old Abu Sayyaf rebel group, but officials aren't certain how solidly those connections have been maintained.

In recent years, Abu Sayyaf, Arabic for "Father of the Sword," has been best known for a series of high-profile kidnappings from tourist resorts in Malaysia and the Philippines believed to have netted the rebels millions of dollars in ransom payments.

The targets have included Americans and other Westerners, including Guillermo Sobero, a California man whose headless remains were found in the Philippine jungle in October. An Abu Sayyaf spokesman claimed the group beheaded him as an "independence day gift" to the nation's president. A missionary couple from Kansas seized in May along with Sobero are believed to remain in Abu Sayyaf's custody.

Remaining Links?

Some officials have seen the sudden surge of kidnappings for profit as an indication that whatever funding Abu Sayyaf may have had from al Qaeda had likely been cut off or reduced in recent years.

Although the United States is arming the Philippine military in its battle against Abu Sayyaf, and the group is on the State Department list of known terrorist organizations, Secretary of State Colin Powell has said direct U.S. military action in Southeast Asia connected to the war on terror is unlikely.

Although Abu Sayyaf appears to have been shaken up and shrunken by an intense Philippine military campaign to destroy it, some U.S. and Philippine officials believe the group's ties to al Qaeda are still in place.

"There certainly are links between al Qaeda and the Abu Sayyaf group, no doubt about it," said a U.S. official interviewed for this story.

The al Qaeda-Abu Sayyaf links are believed to go back to the origins of Abu Sayyaf. And a U.S. official recently told The Associated Press that the links continued in recent years as the two groups exchanged money, equipment and people including Abu Sayyaf fighters being sent for training at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.