A Philippine court has declared militant group Abu Sayyaf to be a terrorist group.
The ruling provides the government with another legal weapon against the militants who have long terrorised the far south of the Philippines.
The ruling camr under pressure from the US to declare the group as a terrorist organisation.
Abu Sayyaf is now officially the first of its kind to be outlawed in the Philippines under a rarely used anti-terrorism law.
The group in recent years has targeted Americans and other foreigners throughout the country. The US listed them as a terrorist group years ago.
The new ruling will also allow the Philippine government to receive surveillance permission from local courts, who before were reluctant to give any warrant for spying due to their official designation as civilians.
“This is one more way to turn our country into a hostile ground for terrorists,” state prosecutor Aristotle Reyes said.
He added that the court decision was crucial because a number of Abu Sayyaf commanders had pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State (IS).
Reyes said there is no confirmed collaboration between the two groups, but in recent months several IS flags had been seen flying in Western Mindanao.
Abu Sayyaf, also known at “The Bearer of the Sword” or “Son of the Sword Maker” was founded in 1991 in southern Basilan Island.
Some of the early leaders of the group were killed in clashes with the army, which sent the group on a violent path of killing, murder and kidnapping.
In it believed the group has no more than 400 ‘ragtag fighters’ and no central leader.
Others believe Abu Sayyaf is a much larger organisation, numbering in the thousands.
The Philippine government believes the group will soon disband, but their resilience has made them notorious, as they fill their coffers with extortion and kidnap activities.
Under the 2007 Human Security Act, the Department of Justice of the Philippines asked the court in Basilan province to ban Abu Sayyaf in 2010. However, like many requests to the judiciary in the Philippines, the request fell on deaf ears.
In the request to label the group as “terrorists” the government presented four witnesses from a 2001 kidnapping of 20 people in a brutal attack in Palawan province.
It is now the government’s aim to label at least three other militant groups in the Philippines – including the Bangsmoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a group that opposes peace of any kind with the government or its people.
Many fear for the outcome of the hearing – as an official attack on the Muslim extremist groups of the Philippines could easily stoke the fires in Mindanao and beyond.
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