Military says expulsion of BIFF leader from group a 'propaganda'
John Unson (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2014 - 3:27pm

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines -- The military on Thursday branded as "damage control propaganda” the reported expulsion from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters of a senior member for leading last year’s decapitation of a farmer as they plundered several villages in North Cotabato last year.

The spokesman of the outlawed BIFF, Abu Misry Mama, was reported on Wednesday by the Associated Press as saying that Imam Ali Tambako had been expelled from the group for the offense.

Misry had reportedly said that Tambako’s having been booted out was a proof that the BIFF do not engage in inhumane conduct while fighting for a puritan Islamic state in Southern Mindanao.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the BIFF would have gained good impression if it had turned over Tambako to the police for prosecution.

Hermoso told the Oblate Media that the announcement was an apparent “damage control” effort to make up for adverse impact to the group of its use of “child warriors,” and banditry to sustain the needs of its forces.

Close to 30 leaders of the BIFF, including the group’s founder, Ameril Ombra Kato, a Saudi-trained cleric, faces criminal cases in local courts.

They have been charged in connection with the BIFF’s spate of attacks on farming communities in Maguindanao and North Cotabato since 2012. 

The group has been staging bombings, kidnappings, extortion and other acts of banditry and could not gain acceptability despite Tambako's expulsion, Hermoso said.

The BIFF was established by Kato in 2011 after he was booted out from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for insubordination and irreconcilable differences with the MILF’s central committee, which is led by Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim.

The BIFF is not a party to the on-going peace overture between the government and the MILF. The outlawed group is not covered either by the government-MILF July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities.

The MILF’s chief negotiator, Muhaquer Iqbal, had earlier told Mindanao Cross that they have exhausted every possible means of wooing Kato back, but failed.

“But we have not cut the bridge that can reconnect them to the MILF,” Iqbal then said.

Iqbal, however, said the BIFF must recommit to the religious and humanitarian ideals of the MILF and support the peace process in case it decides to return.

Tambako and about 30 of his armed followers were expelled after violating the breakaway rebel group's policies and for staging the beheading, according to Misry.

The breakaway Bangsamoro group does not practice such brutal acts like the violent Abu Sayyaf group, Misry said.

"We're aspiring for a Islamic way of life and such violent acts are un-Islamic," Misry said.

Government officials in Central Mindanao said there is a possibility that the the US government would include the BIFF in its list of terrorist organizations, just like Southern Mindanao’s Abu Sayyaf group (ASG).

The ASG, said to have links with al-Qaeda and its Asian cell, the Jemmah Islamiya, is notorious for deadly bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings.

Washington had listed the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization.

Hermoso said the BIFF drew flak from local and international peace advocacy groups for using child combatants in banditry and other criminal activities.

“Now the group is trying to create a good impression by insinuating that it had acted on misbehaviors of some members. That will not work,” Hermoso said.

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