Abu Sayyaf is a militant Islamist group based in and around Jolo and Basilan, where for more than four decades, Moro groups have been engaged in an insurgency for an independent province in the country. The name of the group is derived from the Arabic, abu ("father of") and sayyaf ("swordsmith").
Since its inception in 1991, the group has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in what they describe as their fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines. Abu Sayyaf seeks the establishment of an Iranian-style Islamic theocracy in the southern Philippines. Abu Sayyaf forces in Basilan and in Zamboanga Peninsula were, by June 2003, believed to number less than 500, down from more than 1,000 a year earlier. They use mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles.
The group has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, Australia, Canada, the UAE, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 2002, fighting Abu Sayyaf became a mission of the American military's Operation Enduring Freedom and part of the Global War on Terrorism. The CIA has deployed paramilitary officers from their elite Special Activities Division to hunt down and kill or capture key terrorist leaders. Several hundred United States soldiers are also stationed in the area to mainly train local forces in counter terror and counter guerrilla operations, but as a status of forces agreement and under Philippine law are not allowed to engage in direct combat.
Abu Sayyaf is also involved in criminal activities, including kidnapping, rape, child sexual assault, drive-by shooting, extortion, and drug trafficking.