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Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement

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Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter

I. Historical Perspective/Background

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), sometimes called the
Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), is an Islamic separatist
organization based in the southern Philippines.

It was founded in 2010 by Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato as a splinter group of
the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), itself a splinter group of the Moro
National Liberation Front (MNLF). Kato had studied Islam in Saudi Arabia and
was a member of the MNLF, which had emerged in the 1970s.

When Hashim Salamat, another MNLF member, broke from the group to
found the MILF in the 1980s, Kato followed him. Eventually, Kato became
chief of the MILF’s 105th Base Command. Kato, who espoused an extreme
version of Islam and admired Wahhabism, persistently advocated an
independent Islamic state even as the MILF—especially under Al Haj Murad
Ebrahim, who became MILF chairman after Salamat’s 2003 death—began to
adopt a more amenable stance toward autonomy instead of independence.

Disagreements between Kato and the MILF leadership became prominent in
2008, when Kato led his forces in a violent campaign against non-Muslim
villages. His group conducted raids, destroyed property, and decapitated
civilians for six months, sparking a brutal response from the Philippine military
that displaced over half a million people. Kato launched these attacks to
protest a Philippine Supreme Court decision, in which a peace agreement that
the MILF and the Philippine government had nearly signed was declared
unconstitutional. However, Kato’s forces conducted their violent campaign
without the MILF leadership’s permission, and in response, the MILF demoted
Kato and distanced itself from the attacks.

The BIFF’s relationship with the MILF is unclear. The BIFF has launched
attacks intended to undermine the MILF’s peace talks with the Philippine
government, including a violent campaign against eleven villages in
Maguindanao that caused over 24,000 residents to flee their homes in August
2012. However, later that same month, the BIFF announced a temporary halt
of its attacks at the MILF’s request in order to allow for the scheduled
resumption of MILF-Philippine government talks in Malaysia. The peace was
short-lived as fighting between the BIFF and government forces soon erupted
again.

As the MILF and the MNLF have turned more toward political avenues for
achieving their goals, the BIFF has become one of the most prominent Muslim
separatist groups conducting attacks in the Philippines. On January 27, 2014,
government forces launched Operation Darkhorse, a major offensive against
the BIFF. Operation Darkhorse lasted until February 2014 and resulted in
significant losses to the BIFF, including fifty-two deaths, forty-nine injuries,
and the destruction of four camps, one of which held the BIFF’s facility for the

IS has not issued a response to the BIFF’s declaration of allegiance. including the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). known as the Moro people. On January 25. Kato—still in hiding— died from natural causes. including police and army facilities. Marwan was killed during the operation. Usman was killed in May. also known as Marwan. The SAF operation resulted in forty-four SAF trooper deaths and a backlash against the MILF- Philippine government peace process because of MILF members’ involvement in attacking the troopers. including bombings targeting civilians and attacking the Philippine military. In addition. who had provided bomb production training for various organizations. likely by bodyguards who attempted to collect the bounty on him that was offered by the United States government. who was also believed to lead a special operations division within the BIFF. In August 2014. Meanwhile. Kato. Besides clashing with Philippine soldiers. Government forces captured Tambako on March 15. The operation also displaced over 35. III. Usman escaped during the battle. production of bombs. Both bomb-makers were living under the BIFF’s protection in Maguindanao.S. II. was then chosen to head the BIFF. who led the BIFF’s political affairs division. Ismael Abubakar. The BIFF suffered several leadership losses in 2015. espoused an extreme version of Islam and admired Wahhabism. the BIFF’s founder. the BIFF has mainly attacked government forces. the Philippine government has not engaged in talks with the group.000 people in the provinces of Maguindanao and Cotabato. Abdul Basit Usman. The SAF’s second target was another bomb-maker. Ultimate Objectives The BIFF seeks to establish an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines for the Filipino Muslim minority. One was a Malaysian bomb-maker named Zulkifli Abdhir. the BIFF has continued its attacks in Maguindanao. Strategy and Tactics Since its 2010 formation. It was formed as a splinter group of the MILF in response to the latter’s acceptance of an autonomy arrangement rather than full independence during negotiations with the government. While the BIFF has expressed some willingness for peace negotiations. . although the declaration seemingly entailed no more than a pledge of support and has been viewed by the Philippine military as an attempt to exploit the global reputation of IS. and Philippine governments. 2015. the BIFF declared allegiance to the Islamic State (IS). the BIFF has also attacked civilian targets through bombings and raids. and one month later. BIFF and MILF members were involved in an attack on Philippine Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who were targeting two prominent bomb-makers wanted by the U.

Kato suffered a severe stroke. 2015. Abdul Basit Usman (Unknown to 2015): Usman was a BIFF member and bombmaking expert who led a special operations division within the BIFF. also known as Kumander Bungos. It has mostly operated within those provinces. and they generally result in fewer than twelve casualties. However. Mohammad Ali Tambako (2011 to Unknown): Tambako was appointed as the BIFF’s leader after Kato suffered a severe stroke in November 2011. located in the Mindanao region of the southern Philippines. Composition and Disposition As of July 2016. He established the BIFF in December 2010 after leaving the MILF. V. the BIFF and the JIM have reportedly worked together. and he was one of the most wanted individuals in the Philippines. BIFF attacks often utilize improvised explosive devices triggered by mobile phones. 2. He then established another militant group called the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM). is the BIFF’s appointed leader. Ismael Abubakar (2015 to Present): Abubakar. the BIFF has an estimated number of members from 140 to 160. especially in attempts to undermine the MILF-Philippine government peace process.S. has specifically targeted Christians. government. He served as the BIFF’s chief of political affairs before being chosen to head the BIFF upon Kato’s death in April 2015. Tambako left or was expelled from the BIFF in 2013 after leading some supporters in an attack on the Christian population of the city of Midsayap. 3. The BIFF is concentrated in the provinces of Maguindanao and Cotabato. In November 2011. allegedly by bodyguards who wanted to collect a bounty from the U. . Usman had links to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). 4. He was a member of the MILF before breaking away from the group with Kato. At least one BIFF attack. IV. Ameril Umbra Kato (2010 to 2011): Kato was the BIFF’s founder and first leader. he went into hiding and remained paralyzed until his death in April 2015. during which his forces decapitated a farmer. He was killed in May 2015. Tambako retained some influence over the BIFF and may have rejoined the group a short time afterward. Personalities 1. Government forces arrested Tambako on March 15. who founded the BIFF. led by BIFF leader Mohammad Ali Tambako in 2013.

Regarding militant groups outside the Philippines. According to the Philippine military. landmines. 2014. nor is there evidence of financial. however. communication. On September 12. Kato took many weapons from the MILF’s 105th Base Command. logistical. the BIFF possesses a large stockpile of pistols. machine guns. The BIFF has conducted attacks to destabilize ceasefire agreements and discourage peace negotiations between the government and the MILF. mobility) On announcing the emergence of the BIFF. when he broke from the organization in December 2010. a combined total of 150 BIFF and ASG members conducted a joint attack against government forces on the island of Basilan. The BIFF allied with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). VIII. There is little additional information about the group’s financial sources. and more. In August 2012. Additionally. the BIFF funds itself through extortion. VII. Capabilities or Strengths While the BIFF has expressed some willingness for peace negotiations. businessmen. the BIFF has worked with the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM). 2013. sniper rifles. Finance and Logistics (Armaments. the BIFF attacked eleven villages in Maguindanao just as MILF-Philippine government peace talks were scheduled to resume. another Islamic separatist group in the Philippines. a splinter group established in 2013 by Mohammad Ali Tambako after he left or was expelled from the BIFF. it has never engaged in peace talks or any other form of nonviolent political activity. There is no evidence of BIFF members traveling abroad to fight alongside IS. the BIFF may have some ties to the Islamic State (IS). The BIFF itself has claimed that it receives money and food donations from politicians. improvised explosive devices. and the BIFF and the JIM have allegedly allied themselves against government forces. VI. The BIFF specifically promotes armed struggle as the means of achieving an independent Moro state. the MILF’s biggest and most well-armed field division. The BIFF declared allegiance to IS in a YouTube video uploaded on August 13. describing these donations as charity rather than taxation. and community members. Consequently. the Philippine authorities have dismissed the announcement as propaganda. Vulnerabilities or Weaknesses . Tambako may have rejoined the BIFF a short time afterward. or other relationships between the BIFF and IS.

They are believed to be training members of the BIFF on how to make explosives. Training Six Indonesian bomb experts were monitored in the company of the BIFF. the BIFF attacked the Barangays Simsiman and Malagakit. Recommendations . Recent Developments On May 31. 2017. 2017. On June 21. X. the BIFF raided a North Cotabato village and positioned themselves in a school as they engaged troops in a gunbattle to disrupt the massive military offensive in besieged Marawi City. both of Pigcawayan.IX. Assessment XII. XI. North Cotabato.