Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), also known as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, is an Islamist militant organization based in Mindanao, the Philippines. They are a smaller player in the overall Moro insurgency in the Philippines and are mostly active in Maguindanao and other places in central Mindanao. It is a breakaway group from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front founded by Ameril Umbra Kato.
Kato broke with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2008 because he disagreed with the MILF’s acceptance of autonomy rather than full independence. In 2008, after the Philippine Supreme Court nullified the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain signed by the Philippine government and the MILF, Kato led a contingent of MILF fighters in an attack against civilians. In December 2010, Kato formed the BIFF. He claimed to have 5,000 fighters but the government said that he had only 300. It wasn’t until August 2011 that the MILF recognized the break and declared the BIFF a “lost command”.
The BIFF rejected the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, a preliminary peace agreement signed between the Government of the Philippines and the MILF, and vowed to continue their fight. In January 2014, after the final annexes of the Framework Agreement were signed, the Armed Forces of the Philippines launched Operation Darkhorse against the BIFF. The army captured the BIFF’s main camp in Barangay Ganta, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao which reportedly had 500 fighters.
Along with the MILF, on January 25, 2015, the BIFF was involved in the 2015 Mamasapano clash, leading to the deaths of 44 members of SAF, 18 from MILF and 5 from the BIFF. Following the event, the group engaged in some clashes against the AFP, prompting AFP Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang to announce in late February 2015 an all-out offensive against the BIFF. The offensive resulted in more than 100 casualties in the BIFF. They also suffered a split when a commander Tambako, formed the Justice for Islamic Movement to protect the foreign militants hiding in BIFF controlled areas. He was captured in General Santos City trying to escape the law.
After founder Ameril Umbra Kato’s death, BIFF’s former vice-chairman for political affairs, Ismael Abubakar alias “Bongos,” took over leadership of the group. Among the first moves of BIFF under Abubakar was the bombing of an outpost of the Philippine Army and two different detachments of the Special Action Force (SAF) in Maguindanao on April 19, 2015.
The group suffered another split, when Ustadz Karialan left and built another group after disagreements between members regarding ISIL ideology.