The Radicalization of Abu Hamdie: Wider Lessons for the Ongoing Struggle Against Violent Extremism in Post-Marawi Mindanao

Date01 August 2018
Published date01 August 2018
Subject MatterArticles
01_AIA783117_111-128.indd Article
The Radicalization of Abu
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
Hamdie: Wider Lessons
5(2) 111–128
2018 SAGe Publications India
for the Ongoing Struggle
Private Limited
SAGe Publications
Against Violent Extremism
DOI: 10.1177/2347797018783117
in Post-Marawi Mindanao
Kumar Ramakrishna1
This essay examines the radicalization into violent extremism of a former Abu
Sayyaf Group (ASG) militant named Abu Hamdie. It first explores the violent
Islamist ASG milieu within which he found himself embedded. Second, it examines
how his experiences within a strategic node of the violent Islamist ecosystem
in Marawi, the Darul Imam Shafii religious boarding school, facilitated his own
radicalization. The essay finally suggests three broad lessons that may be learned
from the specific Abu Hamdie radicalization experience for the ongoing struggle
against violent extremism in post-Marawi Mindanao: first, the ideological ecosystem
of Islamist extremism of which Darul Imam Shafii was an important node must
be dismantled; second, the role of long-standing Bangsamoro socio-political and
historical grievances must be urgently addressed by the Philippine authorities and
third, the increasingly pervasive influence of puritanical Wahhabi ideas, that have
rendered impressionable young people susceptible to violent extremist ideological
narratives, needs countering.
Radicalization, violent extremism, Wahhabism, Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro,
Marawi, Mindanao, southern Philippines
On 25 March 2011, in a Quezon City hotel café, the writer came face to face
with a stocky, fit-looking young man who was accompanied by two other men,
1 Associate Professor, National Security Studies Program, S. Rajaratnam School of International
Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Republic of Singapore.
Corresponding author:
Kumar Ramakrishna, National Security Studies Program, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies,
Nanyang Technological University, Block S4, Level B4, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Republic of Singapore.

Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 5(2)
whom I later found out to be plainclothes security officers. The man was cordial
but relatively serious. This meeting had been arranged by the Philippine Institute
for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR), led by Dr Rommel C.
Banlaoi, its Chairman. The man the writer was meeting was an ethnic Tausug from
the Sulu archipelago in the Southern Philippines. His name was Abu Muslim, but
perhaps better known as Abu Hamdie. Abu Hamdie had been arrested three years
earlier in Cotabato City for his involvement in the terrorist network Abu Sayyaf
Group (ASG). However, with the encouragement and support of Banlaoi, he had
turned state witness with the Department of Justice and by 2013, was working in
the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission and served as a senior fellow
with PIPVTR (Espejo, 2008; Galvosa, 2013). While the conversation took place
several years ago, Abu Hamdie’s story retains contemporary relevance and is
very instructive at three levels. First, it sheds light on how what we may call a
wider ideological ecosystem, supportive of radicalization into violent extremism,
functions in the Southern Philippines. Second, his story illumines some of the
enduring background factors that may shed some light on the rise of those
Bangsamoro militant groups—including the ASG—that in 2017, attempted to
carve out some territorial space in the Islamic City of Marawi in Lanao Del Sur
province in Mindanao, with the putative aim of setting up a regional province or
wilayat of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In the event, after
five months of sustained urban fighting, the pro-ISIS Bangsamoro militants
failed to establish a foothold—a development that if successful would have been
of serious concern not just to the Philippines but to the rest of Southeast Asia
(Regencia, 2017).1 Third, Abu Hamdie’s story is also valuable, in that it high-
lights what the central government in Manila, civil society actors and interna-
tional partners need to look into to prevent future Marawis from recurring in the
troubled Mindanao region.
Accordingly, this essay is divided into three substantive sections. First, it will
explore the wider historical and socio-political context within which Abu Hamdie
found himself embedded: specifically, the violent Islamist ASG milieu. Second,
it will then examine how his experiences within a strategic node of the violent
Islamist ecosystem in Marawi, the Darul Imam Shafii religious boarding school,
facilitated his own radicalization into the violent extremism of the ASG. The article
will finally suggest three broad lessons that may be learned from the specific
Abu Hamdie radicalization experience for the ongoing struggle against violent
extremism in post-Marawi Mindanao—and perhaps beyond.
Abu Hamdie’s Wider Historical and Socio-political
Context: Aburajak Janjalani and the Rise
of the Abu Sayyaf
Before the arrival of Christian Filipino settlers from the northern islands of Luzon
and Visayas from 1912 onwards, Mindanao, Sulu and the island of Palawan were
the ancestral homelands of more than 30 ethno-linguistic groups. While 13 of
these groups, such as the Badjao, Iranun, Molbog, Sama, Palawani, Sangil,

Ramakrishna 113
Kalagan, Jama Mapun and Kalibugan—and in particular, the politically powerful
Maguindanao, Tausug and Maranao—were considered as Southern Philippine
Muslim or ‘Moro’, the rest came to be known as Lumad: the non-Muslim and
non-Christian indigenous clans of Mindanao (Kamlian, 2003). It is well known
that the Moro homelands of the Mindanao region—primarily, the provinces of
Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, as well as large areas
in Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga del Norte and Davao del Sur, and to
some extent Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, Zamboanga del Sur and Palawan—have
long been wracked by a decades-long Muslim separatist insurgency against the
central Christian government in Manila. The drivers of the violent insurgency by
the Moro—nowadays increasingly also known as Bangsamoro (Liow, 2006, 2016)2—
separatists have consistently been regarded as ‘poverty, illiteracy, bad governance,
wide availability of loose firearms, and non-enforcement of the rule of law’—all
of which have combined to create ‘a fertile ground for radicalization to take root’
(Center for Integrative and Development Studies, 2015, p. 1). More fundamentally,
historic Bangsamoro nationalist agitation for an independent homeland—exemplified
by the slogan ‘Moro not Filipino’, resulted in the rise of armed separatist groups
such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) by the late 1960s and a powerful,
more religiously oriented splinter faction the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
(MILF) by the mid-1980s that engaged the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
in extensive fighting over four decades that killed, maimed and displaced hundreds
of thousands of civilians in Mindanao. Compounding matters further was the
tendency of the AFP to “misapply military force” in the Mindanao region. The former
commander of AFP forces in Mindanao, Lieutenant-General Mohammad Benjamin
Dolorfino (2011, p. 42), conceded that the ‘adverse effects of military force’ alienated
the Moro public, causing them to view soldiers as ‘villains rather than protectors’.
Singaporean scholar Joseph Liow (2006, p. 56) similarly notes that ‘many Philippine
security officials’ in Mindanao displayed ‘dehumanizing attitudes’ towards Moros,
and senior AFP officers ‘even opined publicly that Moros should basically be
exterminated because they are all likely to be terrorists’. Against this tumultuous
backdrop, in 1989, Aburajak Janjalani, a former member of the MNLF, decided to
set up another splinter group, the Al Harakatul Islamiyah, which over time became
much better known as the ASG (Banlaoi, 2009a).
Aburajak, who had been trained in Afghanistan, named the network after
the Afghan mujahidin commander Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, whom he greatly
revered (Hamdie, 2010). While Aburajak had attended a Catholic high school
called Claret College in Isabela in Basilan, his subsequent education was
fully within a fundamentalist, Wahhabi (see below) milieu. He went to Saudi
Arabia in 1981 and studied Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) for three years in
Mecca, before proceeding to Pakistan, where he became deeply immersed in
jihad thinking (Cook, 2015; Mourad, 2016).3 He returned to Basilan in 1984,
preaching in various mosques and emphasizing the importance of jihad in the
sense of ‘fighting and dying in the cause of Islam.’ (Banlaoi, 2009b, pp. 47–48, 55).
He set up the ASG as he was appalled by what he considered the ‘“heretic”
leadership of the MNLF and MILF.’ (Banlaoi, 2009b, p. 48).4 The ASG at the
outset, such as the earlier Bangsamoro secessionist groups, the MNLF and

Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 5(2)
MILF, declared that it sought the creation of an independent Islamic State in
Mindanao (Kamlian, 2003; Yegar, 2002).
The ideological seeds for the ASG network were sown between 1984 and 1989
in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga City and General Santos City. Aburajak
lambasted traditionalist Moros in these areas, accusing...

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