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Son, Iqbal confirm BIFF leader Umra Kato is dead

Ameril Umbra Kato

Ameril Umbra Kato, seated, the commander of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). AP FILE PHOTO

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—This time, reports about his death were not greatly exaggerated.

Ameril Umra Kato, the founding chair of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who was reported to have passed away twice before, is dead.

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BACKSTORY: Ameril Umbra Kato dead—Muslim leader

BIFF spokesman Abu Misri Mama said the group’s founding chair “has returned to his Creator.”

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Mama said he had talked on the phone to the BIFF leader’s son who confirmed the death. “He was buried this (Tuesday) morning,” he said in a phone interview.

“We have pictures of his burial,” Gen. Gregorio Catapang, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, said, confirming Kato’s death.

‘Natural causes’

“He died of natural causes. Before this, he had a diabetic stroke that immobilized him,” Catapang said.

Sought for comment on Kato’s death, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told the Inquirer that the BIFF was now leaderless.

Earlier, Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao province, quoting Kato’s relatives and close allies, said the BIFF founding chair had a cardiac arrest at 2:30 a.m., Tuesday, in his hideout in a remote village of Guindulungan town.

“Yes, his relatives confirmed he succumbed to cardiac arrest,” Dimaukom told the Inquirer, adding that the 69-year-old renegade Moro leader had suffered a mild stroke in 2011. Kato was said to have had another stroke just last April 7.

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Islamic theology scholar

The BIFF broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has signed a peace agreement with the government. The BIFF is pushing for an independent Islamic state in Mindanao.

Three sources other than Mama and Dimaukom told the Inquirer that Kato, who studied Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia as a scholar, succumbed to a stroke around 2 a.m. in his hideout in a mountainous area in Bagan village in Guindulungan.

All three sources requested anonymity as they were not the authorized spokespersons of their organizations.

“It is 99.99 percent confirmed,” one source told the Inquirer. “He has been described as a ‘living dead’ because he had a stroke some time ago.”

Another source said that Kato was buried around 7 a.m. in the village of Kateman, also in Guindulungan.

READ: Kato still calling the shots in BIFF, says spokesman

The same source, however, also said that his informants had told him that Kato had died in Andavit village in Datu Piang town, some 10 kilometers away from Guindulungan.

The informant said Kato died of hypertension. He also had a heart ailment.

A military report on Kato, culled from reports of several sources, including the MILF, local residents and nongovernment organizations in the area, said Kato died at 2 a.m. and was said to be interred in Sitio (settlement) Kanatul, Barangay (village) Katamen in Guindulugan.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, chief of the AFP public affairs office, said that Kato was first reported dead in 2008, and again in 2011, after suffering a stroke.

No clear succession

Iqbal said the BIFF did not have a clear leadership succession.

Nonetheless, he said, it was possible a new leader could still emerge after Kato’s death.

But Iqbal said another possibility was Kato’s demise “could give way for those who joined Kato to return to the MILF.”

Iqbal said the MILF had always kept an “open-arms” policy to its commanders and members who have broken ties with the group.

But he stressed that the MILF would take back only those who did not have criminal charges filed against them by government.

Kato (then commander of the MILF’s 105th Base Command), his cousin, Wahid Tundok, and Aleem Sulayman Pangalian led MILF units in bloody attacks in North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte in August 2008, soon after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

The MOA-AD was the peace agreement signed between the government led by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the MILF.

Kato was replaced by his deputy, Zacaria Goma, as commander of the MILF’ 105th’s Base Command.

Tundok and Pangalian eventually returned to the MILF and have remained with the group.

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TAGS: Abu Misri Mama, Ameril Umbra Kato, Ameril Umra Kato, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, biff, death, MILF, Mohagher Iqbal, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Samsodin Dimaukom, stroke
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