By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Thirteen more combatants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have voluntarily surrendered to authorities and denounced affiliation with violent extremism they deemed affront to the teachings of Islam, according to Army officials.
Lt. Col. Edwin Alburo, 40th Infantry Battalion based in President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat, received on Friday, Aug. 6 the returnees and their 13 assorted firearms in ceremonies attended also by local civilian officials, the 6th Infantry “Kampilan” Division (6ID) said in a statement.
6ID chief Maj. Gen. Juvyman Uy and Brig. Gen. Roy Galido, 601st Brigade commander, attributed the surrender of the 13 BIFF to the “relentless” military “surgical” operations alongside persuasions by civilian authorities in Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao.
Friday’s surrender event came a week after another group of violent extremists in Maguindanao yielded, bringing to 96 the total number of BIFF combatants yielding since January of this year, the 6ID statement said.
“We encourage other members of the (BIFF) to…lay down their arms and accept the offer of the government,” Gen. Uy, concurrent head of the Joint Task Force Central, said referring to rehabilitative assistance offered by officials in Maguindanao and the Bangsamoro autonomous government.
The latest returnees belonged to the BIFF faction of Imam Karialan operating in areas of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces, the 6ID statement said.
The BIFF was founded by Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato in 2010 after he and his 300 loyal followers bolted their mother unit, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in 2008.
Kato’s group was against the MILF’s decision to pursue peace talks with the government for meaningful autonomy in lieu of liberation.
When Kato died of lingering illness on April 14, 2015, the BIFF vice-chairman for political affairs, Ismael Abubakar, alias “Imam Bongos”, took over leadership.
Over time, Abubakar began to increasingly adopt the radical ISIS doctrine. This prompted Imam Karialan to split from the BIFF with his followers and form a separate faction.
Karialan’s faction was once quoted as stating: “We are not to be swayed by the ISIS ideology because we adhere to the cause of the Moro struggle and teachings of the Koran (Qur’an).”
Hardline followers of Abubakar or “Kumander Bongos” and Imam Karialan formed another faction, electing Esmael Abdulmalik alias “Abu Toraife” as leader. Authorities tagged the “Toraife” group as the “most radical faction” of BIFF openly espousing ISIS ideology.
Combatants of the “Toraife” faction attacked an MILF enclave on Oct. 4, 2019 at Sitio Tinulusan, Barangay Dasawao in Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao. Seven MILF members were killed in the attack.
In past statements, top MILF leaders now leading the Bagsamoro Autonomous government had admitted exerting efforts to persuade two of the three BIFF factions into giving a “meaningful autonomy” chance to take its course. The “Toraife” group was not included in the informal talks because of its “closed mind” for radicalism, they said. (AGM)