Saturday, August 18, 2012


Everything you need to know about the terrorist organization, the Abu Sayyaf Group, can be summed up in this single image:

CAPTION: PHILIPPINES - JANUARY 01: Muslim rebels in Jolo and Zamboanga In Philippines-Abu Sayyaf, Muslim guerrilla fighter praying, near Zamboanga. (Photo by Christophe Loviny / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images) Date created: 01 Jan 1900; Editorial image #: 114001048; Source

Obviously created with billing hours from a Washington D.C.-area public-relations firm, it is dated January 1, 1990, and stands to represent the start of a communication campaign which has shifted noticeably since. Looking then like a cross between Eldridge Cleaver on steroids and Jimi Hendrix on acid, this dusky Philippine nationalist rebel--soon to turn international  jihadist--looks like an Abu who could finish the job started by those two men back in the 60's in the States, which remains a vulnerable spot in the American psyche .

Although, with the beautiful January Zamboanga weather on display, "characterized by essentially constant daily high temperatures...around 89 degrees," and assuming by his shadow it is late afternoon, since he faces Mecca and must be engaged in his 'Asr prayers, I should think he feels a tad overdressed, and wishes he'd gone with the dashiki.
I found a second Christophe Loviny, Getty image from January 1, 1990---a date, by the way, significantly in advance of the written narrative for the formation of the Abu Sayyaf. These Islamists certainly started off as comely creatures--figures not much in evidence during the perp-walks circa 2002-2005, when either they're slack-jawed youths, or seem the result of having spent decades sniffing glue. Joe-Bob here looks a mite over-coordinated to read as a savage bolo-wielding decapitator (is that a Swatch watch?) The red duck tape on the grip of his armament looks too fresh for anything this side of Starsky & Hutch, but it reminds us that it was in some of the early publicity photographs that it was spotted that all the weaponry carried by the Abu Sayyaf was straight Armed Forces of the Philippines issue---impossible to have acquired on the "open" market.

CAPTION: PHILIPPINES - JANUARY 01: Muslim rebels in Jolo and Zamboanga In Philippines-Abu Sayyaf, muslim guerilla fighter in Jolo. (Photo by Christophe LOVINY/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Date created: 01 Jan 1900

How we went in a decade's time from such beefy terrorist specimens shown in the Getty images, to the 5'4" media superstars with man-boobs and Birkenstocks of the hostage-taking glory days is a caution. Men like Abu Sabaya, whose disarming smile is not part of the expected kit, or the dynamic Khadafy Janjalani, the "Iman," or spiritual leader of a 1000-man fighting brigade, who would be all of about 26 years old in this picture, All I know is he wouldn't last a night in Compton, even in Reeboks.

Abu Sabaya (L) and Khadafy Janjalani (R) leaders of a faction of the Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremist rebels pose for photograph in Jolo island 17 July 2000 during the Sipadan hostage crisis. Sabaya in a telephone interview with a local radio station 17 August 2001 alleged he had bribed the army to let his kidnap gang and its US and Filipino hostages break out of a military cordon on 02 June 2001 in Lamitan town in nearby Basilan island. (Photo credit should read Raffy Tima / AFP / Getty Images)

It's not just that the "good guys" and the "bad guys" in the Abu Sayyaf story often appear visually identical, they seem ideologically indistinguishable too. In the Philippines, where a good election cycle can result in 100 political deaths, everybody is working an angle. I was convinced the following heavily art-directed photograph represented real terrorism, That is, until I sourced it in the Getty archive and found a caption that said the glum man with the saucy up-do was a member of a government militia, who "patrols the area leading to the Abu Sayyaf camp." But first you have to know in which direction the barbed wire on top of a theoretical fence leans in order to know who is meant to be kept in or out.

Caption: JOLO, PHILIPPINES: A member of the government militia, working with the joint police and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) force, patrols the area leading to the Abu Sayyaf camp in Talipao on Jolo island 30 April 2000. A group of Abu Sayyaf rebels abducted 21 people, including a number of foreigners, from the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan 23 April 2000, and are keeping them hostage at their base camp in the foothills of Mount Bayog on Jolo island in the southern Philippines. Negotiations between the rebels and Philippine appointed negotiators are currently in process. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/ Jimin Lai (Photo credit should read JIMIN LAI/AFP/Getty Images)  Date created: April 30, 2000
Universally, journalists would referred to the Abu Sayyaf as occupying "jungle lairs," which is a phrase that puts me in mind of Elvis Presley's sex retreat in the basement of his Graceland home. Positioned on the islands of Basilan and Sulu these lairs are said to be in the "hinterlands," which as expressed in the doctrine of the hinterland, means any region inland of a coast. The interior of Basilan is described as "mountainous," but apparently, at best, in an Appalachian sort of way, while Sulu seems entirely four-wheel-drive friendly.

Title: U.S. Special Forces in Southern Philippines
Caption: 401432 04: Filipino soldiers look out over the rugged terrain near the 32nd Infantry base February 22, 2002 in Tipo-Tipo on the southern Philippine island of Basilan. The camp, near where the Abu Sayyaf Group is believed to be hiding, is one where U.S. Special Forces have been deployed as part of 'Balikatan 02-1,' a joint training exercise with the Philippine military designed to help in the fight against the Islamic militant Abu Sayyaf Group on the island of Basilan. (Photo by David Greedy/Getty Images)
Date created: 22 Feb 2002; Editorial image #: 72539248; Original Link
I'm sure there's plenty of real "jungle," on both Basilan and Sulu, but Google satellite view shows 90 percent given over to plantation plantings of coconut, palm, rubber tree and black pepper, with the occasional illegal logging enterprise thrown in.

Title: U.S. Special Forces in Southern Philippines
Caption: 401432 05: A Philippine military Huey helicopter flys over the mountains and rugged terrain of Basilan February 22, 2002 in the Philippines. An estimated 660 U.S. military personal have arrived in the southern Philippines for 'Balikatan 02-1,' a joint training exercise with the Philippine military designed to help in the fight against the Islamic militant Abu Sayyaf Group on the island of Basilan. (Photo by David Greedy/Getty Images) Date created: 22 Feb 2002; Editorial image #: 72483962; Original Source:
So the alternate descriptor, "mountain hideaway," is a bit of a misnomer. The "home" of the Abu Sayyaf was clearly on a par with the permanent encampments occupied by the authentic Philippine Muslim rebel organizations---the MNLF, and the unfortunately acronymed MILF. These amount to government land grants with various capital improvements.
I found the following image on an October 7, 2010 blog, "Philippines Terrorist Group Abu Sayyaf to run in elections," which really brings us full circle already. Here the Abu Sayyaf are ensconced in a prototypical "mountain hideout," like the Lost Boys of Barrie's play Peter Pan, or given the bad teeth, any outdoor gathering place in America where the homeless go to get drunk.

Then I found a monochrome version included in a chapter of a scholarly  tome, "Abu Sayyaf Reloaded: Rebels, Agents, Bandits, Terrorists," which tells us it came off of Abu Solaiman's cell phone, with the ASG team posed under "their tent in the highlands of Patikul, Sulu." "Courtesy of Philippine intelligence sources."

Why are the Abu Sayyaf always losing their cell phones? For this blog's purposes, I wanted the following pic to be of Abu Solaiman's cell phone, but it turns out to be Abu Sabaya's cell phone. He was shot aboard a boat and fell over and was lost in the sea forever more, but authorities gathered this evidence to prove he was truly gone.

Title: U.S. Troops Celebrate Philppine Success Over Rebels
Caption: ZAMBOANGA, PHILIPPINES - JUNE 22: Personal belongings said to belong to Abu Sabaya, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf rebels, a group said to have links with the al Qaeda terrorist group June 22, 2002 in Zamboanga City, Philippines. Sabaya was reportedly killed June 21, 2002 in a gun battle with Philippine marines off the coast of Sibuco, Zamboanga del Norte while trying to escape. (Photo by Gabriel Mistral/Getty Images) Date created: 22 Jun 2002; Editorial image #: 796968
But why didn't the other Abu's just hang out under the picnic shed with the rest of the guys? Maybe it's because a counselor  told them: "No guns under the picnic shed under any circumstances!" So somebody's going to get demerits and will be on KP duty all day tomorrow.

Caption: PATIKUL, PHILIPPINES: Photo dated 24 July 2000 shows Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya (L) at their camp in Patikul town on Jolo island. The rebels, that hold hostage American citizen Jeffrey Schilling, called off plans, 05 April 2001, to kill him two minutes before the 5:00 pm (0900 GMT) ultimatum, a rebel spokesman said on a local radio station. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read AFP/Getty Images)

The 'New Coke'

The chapter, Abu Sayyaf Reloaded: Rebels, Agents, Bandits, Terrorists (Case Study), by Soliman M. Santos, Jr. and Octavio A. Dinampo, also contains a sepia-toned group photo taken on the last day of camp. It's caption reads: "The ASG's preferred name of Al-Harakatul Al-Islamiyya (Islamic Movement). written in Arabic on a propaganda poster for the group, 2002. Courtesy of Rommel C. Banlaoi."

Now, I don't know what they mean by "propaganda." Aren't Arabs on their side and don't need propaganda? Wouldn't the name "Islamic Movement" by a generic and undistinguished in an Arab context? Was this meant like an American poster of a rock star or sports hero to hang on an adolescent Yemeni boy's bedroom tent walls.

But the truly unforgivable sin here is from a marketing point of view, by switching brand identification midstream. We didn't ask to get all terrorized by "Abu Sayyaf," but we were sold that, and now somebody wants to change it to a mouthful: "Al-Ha-ak-a-tul-Is-lam-iy-ya?" And why the fuck do we care what their "preference" in nomenclature is?

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