GENERAL Santos City, Philippines - Combined Army and police operatives arrested here on Sunday night one of the three wanted founders of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Imam Mohammad Tambako, who hails from Barangay Libutan in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao, was nabbed exactly three months after he launched a more radical BIFF faction, the Justice Islamic Movement (JIM), during a gathering of his followers in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
The JIM, which is more known to local officials in Maguindanao as the Saifulllah or the “sword of God,” aims to establish an ethnically pure Moro state in the south, under an Islamic Sharia justice system with absolute separation from the “kuffar.”
The term kuffar (kafir) is a specific Arabic label for non-Muslims.
Highly-placed military and police sources and local officials in General Santos City said Tambako and his five followers, who yielded handguns and grenades, were on board tricycles and on their way to the city's seaport when they were intercepted by government operatives at Barangay Calumpang.
“They did not resist arrest when they were frisked and subjected to search for firearms and explosives,” said a senior police official, who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the case.
Local officials in Maguindanao, influential Muslim clerics and senior commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) helped the authorities locate the whereabouts of Tambako, the source added.
Tambako and his five aides identified as Datukan Sato Sabiwang, Alih Ludisman, Mishari Gayak, Abusama Badrudin Guiamil, who is also known as Hansela Omar, and Ibrahim Manap, just listened silently as a police agent read them the contents of a warrant for their arrest, issued by Judge George Jabido of the Regional Trial Court Branch 15 in Cotabato City.
The warrant was issued last year in connection with the BIFF’s bloody incursion in three barangays in Midsayap town in North Cotabato, where Tambako and his men beheaded farmers they executed gangland style and for burning houses and holding hostage for half a day several teachers and elementary pupils as they plundered villages in the area.
Police and Army intelligence units in Central Mindanao learned of Tambako’s presence in General Santos City on Saturday morning through information relayed secretly by local officials in Maguindanao and senior MILF commanders.
"One of the informant is a senior Alim (Islamic preacher) in Maguindanao," said an Army official.
The team that arrested Tambako and his five men was comprised of agents from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, the City police, the 6th Infantry Division and its surveillance outfit, the 6th Military Intelligence Battalion, and plainclothes operatives from the 10thInfantry Division and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.
Tambako was nabbed amid the military’s on-going law enforcement operation in Maguindanao against the BIFF, which started on March 1.
Six soldiers, two of them Marines, have been killed while nine other government combatants have been wounded in encounters with BIFF bandits in the past two weeks.
Local military units had said more than 40 BIFF gunmen were killed in the ensuing skirmishes, which caused the displacement of more than 90,000 villagers. The displaced victims are now in evacuation sites in 11 Maguindanao towns.
The BIFF, led by religious extremists who studied Islamic theology in secular schools in the Middle East and North Africa, is not covered by the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the MILF.
The agreement binds the MILF and the government to mutually cooperate in the interdiction of criminals and terrorists in flashpoint areas in Mindanao.
Tambako, a known coddler of foreign-trained bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman, also an ethnic Maguindanaon, was implicated in more than a dozen recent bombings in Central Mindanao, including four attacks in North Cotabato in late 2014, which left eight people dead and injured more than 50 others.
Tambako and another wanted bandit gang leader, Imam Karialan, helped the radical jihadist Ameril Ombra Kato establish the BIFF in early 2010.
Kato started as chief of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, but was booted out for insubordination and other offenses in 2009.
Tambako’s camp in Dasikil area in west of Mamasapano was taken over by units of the Philippine Marine Corps two weeks ago.
Marine combatants recovered from Tambako’s hideout materials for fabrication of improvised explosives and roadside bombs and a list of their targets, such as buses, public terminals and markets.
Tambako was Kato’s vice chairman for military affairs.
He launched the JIM in December, about a month before the deadly January 25, 2015 encounter in three adjoining barangays in Mamasapano between Special Action Force commandos and MILF members, and a third group, the BIFF.
At least 44 SAF operatives and more than a dozen MILF members were killed in the encounter, which challenged the now 18-year Mindanao peace process.