The US State Department has issued a Travel Warning for citizens planning trips to the Philippines, especially Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, citing the risk of kidnapping and violence by terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf group and Jemaah Islamiya.
There is, at present, a low level war in Sulu between the Philippine military and several rebel groups deemed terrorist groups. The largest of these groups is the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which the Philippines government accuses of giving safe harbor to Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islaymiya. The offensive has displaced tens of thousands of families, who will be permitted to return home this week in order to prepare for mid-May elections.
Abu Sayyaf was created in 1991 as a jihadist organization aimed at creating an Islamic state in the Philippines. However, by the late 1990s, it had descended into what is more aptly described as a violent mafia-like criminal organization. In light of the group's early connections to Al Qaeda, the US designated Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist group following the 9/11 attacks. The renewed focus, which has included sending significant numbers of US Special Operations forces to thwart terrorism in the Philippines, may have given the group a new lease on life.
The group is currently in the midst of a violent clash of wills with the American backed Philippines army: In a particularly gruesome display on the southern island of Jolo in mid-April, the group beheaded seven hostage civilians and had their heads delivered in a sack to the military. They claimed it was in response to the the killing of one of their own, earlier in the year.