For­mer MILF fighter be­hind deadly ram­page is dead, says Philip­pines mil­i­tary

The China Post - - GUIDE POST -

A Mus­lim sep­a­ratist rebel leader who sacked a string of south­ern Philip­pine towns in 2008, leav­ing about 400 dead and more than half a mil­lion home­less, is dead, the mil­i­tary said Wed­nes­day.

Ameril Um­bra Kato formed the Bangsamoro Is­lamic Free­dom Fighters (BIFF) and led the ram­page af­ter split­ting from the na­tion’s main rebel group, the Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front (MILF), in anger over a planned peace deal.

The rebel leader, be­lieved to be in his late 60s, suf­fered a fa­tal stroke early Tues­day, leav­ing be­hind an armed force of about 150 guer­ril­las, mil­i­tary spokesman Col. Harold Cabunoc told AFP.

“We’re 99.9 per­cent sure he’s dead. We just don’t have the body,” he said, cit­ing three “as­sets” close to Um­bra Kato’s or­ga­ni­za­tion.

BIFF spokesman Abu Mis­sry Mama also con­firmed Um­bra Kato’s death, in a tele­phone call to a Manila tele­vi­sion sta­tion.

Mama said Es­mael Abubakar, whom he de­scribed as a “Mid­dle East- trained ulama” or Mus­lim scholar, was elected to re­place Um­bra Kato.

Um­bra Kato’s death fol­lowed a five-week mil­i­tary cam­paign that ended last month to flush out for­eign and Filipino mil­i­tants wanted by the United States who had sought refuge in BIFF camps on the main south­ern is­land of Min­danao.

Though rel­a­tively small, Um­bra Kato’s group was blamed for at­tack­ing at least nine Min­danao towns in 2008, with the as­saults claim­ing about 400 lives and forc­ing 600,000 peo­ple to flee their homes.

The BIFF also pledged al­liance to Is­lamic State gun­men in Iraq and Syria last year.

Capt. Joan Pet­inglay, a mil­i­tary spokes­woman in the area, told AFP that Um­bra Kato’s death was not ex­pected to im­pact the BIFF greatly.

“The death af­fected their morale for sure. But in terms of the con­duct of their op­er­a­tions the ef­fect is min­i­mal,” Pet­inglay said, adding Um­bra Kato has been known to be ill for some time.

Filipino se­cu­rity an­a­lyst Rodolfo Men­doza and Cabunoc said the group’s an­nounced choice for a new leader came as a sur­prise, and may in­di­cate its de­sire to be seen as more mod­er­ate.

Two other se­nior BIFF fig­ures, in­clud­ing num­ber-two Kagi Kar­i­alan and Omar Kato, Um­bra Kato’s el­dest son, had been ex­pected to take over, Men­doza said.

He said the Kato son “has been very close to the for­eign ji­hadists.”

Cabunoc also said it was Kar­i­alan who pledged the BIFF’s al­le­giance to Is­lamic State fighters.”

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