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Abubakar Esmael is new BIFF chair

Abubakar Esmael is the new chair of the breakaway Moro rebel group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), after the death of its founding leader, Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato, on Tuesday.

Officials of the BIFF voted for Esmael as Kato’s successor.

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Ameril Umbra Kato

Ameril Umra Kato (seated) is interviewed by the media in Maguindanao in this 2011 photo. The new Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters chair, Abubakar Esmael, is said to be the man wearing a BIFF shirt carrying an Armalite rifle near Kato in many photos taken of the late BIFF founder. AP

Abu Misri Mama, speaking for the BIFF, said Esmael got a unanimous vote from ranking BIFF officers.

Mama said the voting was done through a phone call because the BIFF leaders were far away from each other and could not set a meeting in one place immediately.  He refused to name the BIFF officers who participated in the voting.

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“He (Esmael) is very quiet, very Islamic and commands respect not only from our members but also from political leaders in the province,” Mama told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He did not name the politicians.

He said the BIFF’s struggle for independence would continue despite Kato’s death.

“The BIFF is now stronger than ever even with our leader’s death and the arrest of some our colleagues,” he said.

“We are just here, merging with the Bangsamoro people. We will continue our guerrilla attacks against the military, just wait when we strike back,” he said in Filipino.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front now believe that the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), the political organization founded by Kato, and its armed wing, the BIFF, will slowly break down after the death of Kato.

Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato died due to cardiac arrest in Guindulungan town in Maguindanao on Tuesday.

READ: Son, Iqbal confirm BIFF leader Umra Kato is dead

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“With Kato’s death, the BIFM will now wither, most especially with the arrests of some of its top leaders,” MILF vice chair for military affairs Von Al Haq said by phone.

Al Haq said BIFM members would likely go their separate ways because of a vacuum in the leadership and the arrest of the BIFM top leaders.

Last March, former BIFM vice chair for political affairs Mohammad Tambako was arrested in General Santos City while seeking refuge after government forces captured his camp in the course of the military’s all-out offensive.

After a few days, alleged BIFM financier, Abdulgani Esmael Pagao, was arrested by police forces in Cotabato City.

But Mama, the BIFM’s spokesperson, dismissed speculations about a vacuum in the group’s leadership.

He explained that the structure of the BIFM ensured an automatic successor after the death of a leader.

This, he said, would ensure the continuity of their struggle.

READ: ‘BIFF will not die with Ameril Umra Kato’

“Kato has his vice chair and his cabinet to look after the organization,” Mama said by phone. “Kato was a good leader but there are those who are more skilled than he was. That is the nature of our struggle.”

He cited the case of the MILF when Hashim Salamat died.

“When Hashim Salamat died, his followers continued the fight. Salamat physically died but he is very much alive in the hearts of the Moro people and the mujahideens,” Mama said.

The group’s vice chair for political affairs, Abubakar Esmael alias Kumandar Bungos, has been elected to the top position in the BIFM, Mama said.

Esmael is the man in a BIFF shirt, who always carries an Armalite rifle near Kato, in many photos taken of the late BIFM-BIFF founder.

Esmael, Mama said, has been a loyal follower of Kato and has shown excellence in political and military command over the past few years.

“He is capable of leading the BIFM,” Mama said. SM/RC

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TAGS: Abu Misri Mama, Abubakar Esmael, AFP, Ameril Umra Kato, Armed conflict, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, biff, BIFM, Insurgency, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moro rebellion, News, peace process, Philippine Government, Rebel groups, rebel leaders, rebellion, Regions, Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato, Von Al Haq
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