He was a former engineering student and police trainee and had lived in Saudi Arabia for several years.
Prior to his death, the United States government had placed a USD 5,000,000 reward on his arrest for the May 2001 kidnappings of two American missionaries and another American who was beheaded. According to the Philippine Army documents, Sabaya had dropped out of a criminology course to join the Moro National Liberation Front (M.N.L.F.), an Islamic rebel group, who trained him in bomb-making and assassination. When the M.N.L.F. signed a peace treaty with the Philippine government in 1996, Sabaya joined Filipinos working in Saudi Arabia. Upon his return to the Philippines he came into contact with Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani, one of the founders of the Abu Sayyaf. Sabaya was accused of several hostage kidnappings. In Basilan, he was accused of being involved in 13 kidnappings incidents, including that of a Roman Catholic priest, schoolchildren and teachers. In reaction, the Philippine government offered a 5,000,000 peso reward for his capture.
On June 21, 2002, after being tracked by United States and Philippine forces, Sabaya was confronted by a Special Warfare Group team of the Philippine Navy. After attempting to evade capture, Sabaya was shot and killed at sea. Four other members of the Abu Sayyaf survived and were arrested during the incident.