|BIFF founder Kato dies in Mindanao|
|[Reuters] The leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters died on Tuesday. Ameril Umbra Kato suffered a heart attack in his hideout in Maguindanao province.|
General Gregorio Catapang said, "We have pictures of his burial. He died of natural causes. Before this, he had a diabetic stroke that immobilized him."
BIFF spokesman Abu Misri Mama also confirmed the Kato's death after speaking with the militant leader's son, Omar, who is expected to be the armed group's new leader.
Kato, a former field commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, opposed peace talks with the government after an ancestral land deal in 2008 was nullified by the Supreme Court.
The peace process has stalled after the bloody clash that killed 44 police commandos, 17 militants and four civilians on January 25 as lawmakers suspended debates on a law to create a new autonomous Muslim area in the south. BIFF militants were involved in firefight.
General Catapang said, "This will help the peace process because we all know his group is a peace spoiler."
Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief peace negotiator, said they will welcome back Kato's followers to their group if they wish to rejoin. He added, "We will not accept those who had committed crimes, like bombings and extortion. You can take out the leader, but like any other terrorist organization, the leader can be replaced."
|Explosives seized from BIFF leader’s house|
|[Gulf Today] Philippine security forces seized explosives and bomb-making materials during a raid on the house of an arrested leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in General Santos City in Mindanao.|
Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said the raid was conducted by a security team a few hours after the arrest of Mohammad Ali Tambako and four of his alleged associates on Sunday night. Cabunoc said, "It is believed that Tambako and his men were planning to carry out bombings in the area to sow terror and violence. Our men are also looking into the possibility that Tambako and his cohorts were planning to divert attention from the continuing all-out offensive conducted by government forces against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters particularly in Maguindanao province."
The military said Tambako was a close associate of former MILF veteran field commander Ameril Umbra Kato when he broke away to form the BIFF. Tambako served as the BIFF military affairs vice chairman when he broke away from the BIFF over policy differences and established, in turn, another splinter group called the Justice for Islamic Movement.
Tambako was confirmed to have studied abroad before returning to the Philippines to join Moro militant groups. A security expert said, "Because of his exposure to foreign terror networks, he established a network of contacts among notorious groups around the world."
|Bombing leads to clash with BIFF militants|
|Following a bomb attack Thursday in Datu Unsay, Maguindanao that left a soldier dead, Philippine troops pursued suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Lt. Col. Donald Hongitan said that troops engaged suspected BIFF militants in a firefight in several villages in Datu Unsay.|
No casualties were reported among government troops, but Hongitan said there was information that two BIFF militants were injured. He said the militants were forced to retreat, but pursuit operations were still ongoing.
BIFF spokesperson Abu Missry Mama, meanwhile, said in a text message that the group will investigate who was behind the bombing.
Col. Dickson Hermoso earlier said troops were on their way from Camp Omar to battalion headquarters in Datu Unsay when an improvised explosive device went off. The military truck's driver was killed, while three others were injured.
Camp Omar was used as BIFF headquarters under the self-declared leadership of 105th Base Commander Ameril Umbra Kato before they were forced to leave after military operations against them in 2012.
Hermoso said troops believe the IED was meant for soldiers who pass by the area. Around three weeks ago, a blast occurred on a bridge in Datu Unsay which left several soldiers wounded.
|Nine Moro militants killed in Mindanao clashes|
|The Philippine military on Friday reported that at least nine members of a breakaway group from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were killed in fierce battles with security forces in Mindanao.|
Captain Tony Bulao said the clashes were concentrated in marshland located between the provinces of North Cotabato and Maguindanao. He said the attacks were initiated by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) headed by Ameril Umbra Kato, who broke away from the MILF in 2008.
Bulao said, "They kept on harassing our forces," adding the BIFF started their attacks on a military outpost in a remote village in the town of Pikit, North Cotabato on New Year's Eve. The BIFF militants intensified their attacks January 1 and 2 as the fighting spread from Pikit to the towns of Midsayap and Aleosan in North Cotabato.
Of the nine militant fatalities, Bulao said two were killed in their initial attack on a village in Pikit on December 31 while the seven others died while trying to take over a vital segment of the highway between Maguindanao and North Cotabato on January 2. Two soldiers were injured in the clashes.
|MILF deploys 'friendly forces' in Maguindanao|
|Muslim rebels currently in peace talks with the government are trying to avoid battles with their former allies behind several attacks in the past few weeks in Mindanao. They have deployed "friendly forces" in areas targeted by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), according to Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chairman for political affairs of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). BIFM is a breakaway group from the MILF.|
Jaafar said that members of the MILF's National Guard unit, aka Task Force Etihad, are now in the province of Maguindanao to help ease tensions which could lead to further fighting with the BIFM and widespread violence in Mindanao.
Jaafar said, We began deploying after they promised us that they will not make any moves that will destroy the unity of the people."
A month ago, BIFM fighters, led by Ameril Umbra Kato, attacked military detachments and villages in Maguindanao, leaving scores of troops dead and causing more than 7,000 families to flee the region.
Kato, who used to be in charge of the MILF 105th Base Command, is thought to have been behind the attacks on civilians in North Cotabato in 2008. The rogue commander heads the 1,000-strong armed wing of the BIFM, which broke away from the MILF two years ago.
MILF spokesman Von Al Haq claimed that Kato is still hiding somewhere in Datu Piang town in Maguidnanao but is apparently weak and can hardly speak because he is not getting enough supplies for his medical condition. He said, His condition is deteriorating faster and only his wife and son are attending to him."
|Spokesman: Kato still in command of MILF splinter group|
Mama said, "Despite Katos health condition, he is still very much in command."
Kato, a former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander in Maguindanao, was reportedly too weak to lead the BIFM and its armed branch, the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters.
The MILF claimed he had sought treatment in a hospital in Cebu and the military had said a Kato deputy was now calling the shots in the BIFM.
The militarys assessment had come in the wake of attacks led by BIFF forces in at least five Maguindanao towns starting August 5, in which seven soldiers and five civilians were killed. The military claims scores of
Mama accused the MILF of "circulating unverified statements" about Katos alleged treatment in Cebu, courtesy of an unnamed Maguindanao politician. Mama said, "If he was in Cebu for medical treatment, he could have already been arrested. This is nothing but a hoax," citing various warrants and a bounty of P10 million for his arrest.
But Colonel Prudencio Asto maintained that authorities had confirmed that "Kato is out" and that his deputy, Mohammad Ali Tambaco, "has taken over."
Unlike the MILF the military believes that Kato remains in Maguindanao and is being taken care of by his followers. Asto said the hunt was continuing for the ailing BIFM leader and his followers for the atrocities they have committed in Maguindanao.
|Three Philippine soldiers injured in attack in Maguindanao|
|Three members of Philippine security forces were wounded in an attack staged by breakaway Muslim |
Col. Prudencio Asto, regional military spokesman, said followers of Ameril Umbra Kato of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters attacked a military detachment around 11:30 p.m. in the village of Bagan in Maguindanao Province. A 30-minute gun battle broke out, leaving three enlisted soldiers injured.
Asto said, "Our troops managed to repel the rebels'harassment. Three of our soldiers sustained wounds but out of danger."
|Filipino terror suspect likely with splinter group|
|[Straits Times] Filipino officials and the country's largest rebel group say a key terrorist suspect may have joined a renegade guerrilla commander who has vowed to carry on the battle for a separate homeland.|
Moro Islamic Liberation Front Von Al Haq said on Thursday that his group received information that Abdul Basit Usman has been seen with the forces of Ameril Umbra Kato in the southern Philippines.
Usman is wanted in the Philippines for his alleged role in deadly bombings. The US added Usman to its list of most-wanted in 2008 and offered a US$1 million (S$1.2 million) reward for his killing or capture.
Kato recently split from the main Moro Islamic Liberation Front over its peace talks with Manila. The group no longer seeks a separate state.
|MILF splitter threatens jihad|
|A radical guerrilla commander said he had split from the largest Muslim militant group and formed his own with hundreds of fighters to wage a war for a separate homeland.|
In a cellphone interview from his jungle hide-out in Maguindanao, Ameril Umbra Kato said that he would not return to the mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has opened negotiations with the government and threatened to expel him after he led a mutiny in December. Kato also denied accusations that he has links with al-Qaida.
He said his new group would be called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Front. Its guerrilla wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, was organized in January, a month after he broke off from the MILF.
Kato, estimated to have 200 to 300 fighters by his former comrades, did not give many details about his combat force or say what he would do next. Kato, who is in his late 60s, said he left because his former group chose to "waste time" negotiating with the government instead of waging a battle for an independent Muslim homeland.
"We've been going around and around wasting money and look where the peace talks have brought us. The roots of the conflict have not been solved," Kato said.
MILF spokesman Von Al Haq expressed relief that Kato finally had declared he wanted to lead his own organization but warned "he will be accountable for his actions, which will no longer have any bearing on the MILF."
Al Haq said, "It's a process of elimination. At the end of the day, all those who couldn't hold firm on our basic principles fall on the wayside."
The main guerrilla force now led by Murad Ebrahim split in 1978 from the Moro National Liberation Front, which dropped its bid for secession and signed a peace accord with Manila in 1996. Murad's group dropped its bid for independence last year but demanded a more powerful type of autonomy with greater control over more territory.
Murad's group said Kato resigned in December, citing his age and poor health. But Kato then formed a breakaway group and accused Murad's group of betraying the Muslim cause by seeking autonomy instead of independence.
Kato said, "They did that without consulting the Muslims. They cheated."
|Renegade Philippine guerrilla commander forms new group|
|MANILA, Philippines: A renegade commander said Thursday he has split from the Philippines largest Muslim rebel group and formed a new group with hundreds of fighters to wage a war for a separate homeland.|
Ameril Umbra Kato said in a cellphone interview from his jungle hide-out in southern Maguindanao province that he would not return to the main Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has threatened to expel him after he led a mutiny in December.
Kato denied allegations by Philippine security officials that he has links with Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the countrys volatile south and was involved in deadly bombings and terrorist attacks.
He said his new group would be known as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Front (BIFF). Its guerrilla wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, was organized in January, a month after he broke off from the main Muslim guerrilla force over differences with insurgent leaders.
This is the true jihad, the true revolution, Kato said.
Kato, who has about 200 to 300 fighters according to his former comrades, did not give details about his combat force or say what next steps he would take.
Kato, who is in his late 60s, said he left because his former group chose to waste time by deciding to negotiate with the government for expanded autonomy instead of waging a battle for an independent Muslim homeland that would liberate minority Muslims from crushing poverty and neglect.
Weve been going around and around wasting money and look where the peace talks have brought us, Kato said. The roots of the conflict have not been solved.
The infighting within the main 11,000-strong rebel force underscores the complexity of the Muslim unrest that has claimed more than 120,000 lives and stunted growth in the impoverished but resource-rich south of the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.
The main guerrilla force currently led by Murad Ebrahim split in 1978 from the former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which dropped its secessionist bid for autonomy and signed a landmark peace accord with Manila in 1996. Murads group dropped its bid for independence last year but demanded a more powerful type of autonomy with greater control over wider territory.
Murads group said Kato, who used to head one of its largest and most battle-tested commands, resigned last December, citing his age and poor health. But Kato then formed a breakaway group and accused Murads group of betraying the Muslim cause by going for autonomy instead of independence.
They did that without consulting the Muslims. They cheated, Kato said.
Philippine officials have expressed concern over the infighting, which they say casts doubts about the main rebel groups ability to enforce any future accord in peace talks brokered by Malaysia.
Philippine security officials have accused Kato in the past of providing refuge to members of the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah, the small but brutal Abu Sayyaf group and Filipino militants like Usman Basit who have been sought by US and Philippine authorities in connection with deadly bomb attacks.
They have stained my names with all these allegations of bombing malls and bus terminals, Kato said. These are all big sins and un-Islamic. I have no contact with Al-Qaeda.
Who are the real terrorists? he asked. They are government troops who drop bombs anywhere even if there are civilians.
|Filipino Muslim rebels to disown radical commander|
|[Straits Times] The Philippines' largest rebel group has given a radical commander a final warning to stop a mutiny or face expulsion, which will open his breakaway force to possible military assaults.|
Moro Islamic Liberation Front Vice-Chairman Ghazali Jaafar said on Wednesday his group's central committee will soon issue a resolution declaring Ameril Umbra Kato no longer a member.
Jaafar says an expulsion will mean Kato is no longer covered by accords the rebel group has forged with the government, including a truce that shields rebels from military assaults.
Kato has up to 300 armed fighters. Rebel Von Al Haq says Kato angered rebel leaders when he took steps that stoked a deadly land feud between two commanders in the restive southern Philippines.
|Philippine rebels assure govt on rogue commander|
|[Arab News] rebel leaders have assured the Philippine government they are still in control of a rogue guerrilla commander who has rejected peace talks with the government.|
Marvic Leonen, the chief of the government peace panel in talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said Friday that rebel leaders have given assurances that they still wield influence over Ameril Umbra Kato, who reportedly has formed his own .
The two sides concluded their latest round of formal talks in Malaysia on Thursday.
Leonen says the Moro rebels have submitted a new draft of their negotiating position in which they claim 7-9 percent of the southern Philippines as the traditional homeland of Filipinos. He says the government will study the draft.