The Abu Sayyaf Group (the Sword Bearers) was formed in 1991 during the peace process between the Philippine government and the Islamic terrorist group known as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Since the MILF pledged to stop terrorizing the Philippines, they simply created a new name for their militant wing.
The Abu Sayyaf Group's founder, Abdulrajik Abubakar Janjalani, was also the gang's leader from its inception until his death in 1998. Janjalani, like most terrorist leaders, was an Islamic scholar before he became a jihadist. One thing simply led to the other. Janjalani participated in the Afghan-Soviet mujahideen war called the Great Jihad and rubbed assault weapons with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. He purportedly met with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda's founder, Dr. Muhammad Abdallah Azzam.
In December 1998, Janjalani was killed during a clash with the Philippine military. Anih Sailani took over. He was a co-founder of the Abdurajak Janjalani Brigade, an affiliated faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group, of which Sailani was also an original member. Sailani was arrested on kidnapping charges by the Philippine government in September 2001. But in 2002, Sailani and his brother Itin escaped prison by disguising themselves as Muslim women. They just walked out of the facility following prisoner visitation hours. It was suspected that Muslim prison guards aided in the escape.
The Abu Sayyaf Group remains nominally committed to the formation of a Muslim state in the southern Philippines. However, corrupted by Islam their militants have shifted toward predominantly criminal enterprises. Some intelligence experts (who are not experts on Islam) have viewed recent ASG bombings as a possible sign that the group is returning to its fundamentalist roots.
The Philippine government has struggled for over three decades against the terrorist movement that began with MILF's founding in 1972. The Abu Sayyaf Group is the most violent wing of that enterprise. Known by the alias, Al-Harakat Al-Islamiyyah, or Bearer of the Islamic Sword, Abu Sayyaf is closely allied with Jemaah Islamiyah, Laskar Jihad, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and al-Qaeda. They were directly involved in the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing, providing expertise, funding and personnel.