29 BIFF fighters yield in Maguindanao as military ops continue amid COVID-19 crisis

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 1 April) – Another 29 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have surrendered as troops continue surgical operations in Maguindanao to neutralize the terrorist group even as the country grapples with the fight to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, military officials said Wednesday.

Col. Jose Narciso, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, said the BIFF members under the faction of Imam Mininbang, also known as Kagi Karialan, yielded on Monday to troops belonging to a unit of the 33rd Infantry Battalion based in Barangay Zapakan, Rajah Buayan town.

“A holistic approach, applying both military and non-military actions, will be sustained. We are hoping that the other various militant factions in the region will be laying down their arms,” he said in a statement.

The BIFF, which broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) due to ideological differences, was formed in 2010 by Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato, then commander of the MILF’s 105th Base Command.

Kato, who suffered a stroke in 2011, died in April 2015 reportedly due to cardiac arrest.

Following his death, the BIFF splintered into two and later three factions – the faction of Ismael Abubakar alias Imam Bongos, the Karialan faction, and the Abu Toraife faction headed by Esmael Abdulmalik.

The Karialan faction is reportedly considered as a “moderate” while the two others as “radical Islamic groups.”

Maj. Gen. Diosdado Carreon, commander of the 6th Infantry Division and Joint Task Force Central, said that military pressure against the BIFF will be sustained.

According to him, the focused and intensified operations of the Joint Task Force Central targeting the terror groups in Maguindanao resulted in a pressure build-up that led to the surrender of the BIFF militants.

“This feat (surrender) inspires us to intensify our offensives even more,” Carreon said.

Among the firearms surrendered were an M14 rifle, Garand rifles, sniper rifles (including 2 caliber .50 Barretts), Ingram and Uzi submachine guns, and grenade launchers.

The surrenderers also yielded an ISIS flag, the military added.

Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Western Mindanao Command chief, lauded the troops for the surrender of BIFF members as he instructed them to sustain the military operations even if the nation is grappling to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This achievement is a breakthrough for the JTF Central. With the weakening of their group, we are confident that more fighters will be compelled to cross the line,” Sobejana said.

The surrenderers were subjected to a custodial debriefing under the 33rd Infantry Battalion. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)