Manila: The Philippine government has asked a court to outlaw the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist group and blacklist more than 200 of its Islamic fighters blamed for two decades of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings, officials said on Monday.
The Justice Department recently lodged its petition against the al Qaeda-linked group with a trial court in southern Basilan province — the Abu Sayyaf`s birthplace — in the first known government attempt to ban a rebel group under a 2007 anti-terrorism law.
Abu Sayyaf members currently cannot be arrested unless they commit a crime.
The petition cited 20 major bombings and atrocities allegedly committed by the Abu Sayyaf, including a 2004 attack that ignited an inferno on a ferry that killed 116 people, and the kidnappings of dozens of mostly European tourists and three Americans in early 2000.
If approved, the measure would criminalise membership in the Abu Sayyaf and allow authorities to freeze financial assets of militants more rapidly and limit their travel. It would serve as a new legal weapon against the group, which has survived years of US-backed offensives, state prosecutor Nestor Lazaro said.
"This will help cripple the group," Lazaro said.
The 210 names to be added to the blacklist are identified so far out of an estimated 400-strong membership.
The militants are determined to pursue jihad, or holy war, "in any shape or form ... without regard to violation of laws or even sacrificing innocent lives," according to the 22-page petition, which cited the Abu Sayyaf`s charter.
Founded in 1991, the Abu Sayyaf has not only waged local attacks but has worked with foreign militants to carry out operations abroad, the petition said. It has reportedly given sanctuary to Indonesian terrorist suspects, including Dulmatin — a key suspect in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings who was killed by police last March in Indonesia.
Abu Sayyaf fighters have staged terrorist attacks with help from Osama bin Laden`s al Qaeda network, Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah, and a special assault unit of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a group engaged in on-and-off again peace talks, according to the government petition. It did not elaborate.
The Moro rebel group has denied any such link.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has not issued any public statement for years, could not be reached for comment.
Washington has listed the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist group and deployed hundreds of troops to the southern Philippines in 2002 to provide combat training, weapons and intelligence to Filipino soldiers battling the militants.
US-backed offensives have killed or captured many of the group`s commanders, leaving it without an overall leader to unify its factions in Basilan, nearby Jolo island and the Zamboanga peninsula.