Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), sometimes called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), is an Islamic separatist organization based in the southern Philippines.

Key Statistics

2010 First Recorded Activity
2012 First Attack
2018 Profile Last Updated

Profile Contents

Overview

Narrative of the Organization's History

Organization

Leadership, Name Changes, Size Estimates, Resources, Geographic Locations

Strategy

Ideology, Aims, Political Activities, Targets and Tactics

Major Attacks

First Attacks, Largest Attacks, Notable Attacks

Interactions

Foreign Designations and Listings, Community Relations, Relations with Other Groups, State Sponsors and External Influences

Maps

Mapping relationships with other militant groups over time

Contact MMP

Send a message to the Mapping Militants team.

Download Full Profile as PDF

Last Updated August 2018

How to Cite

Mapping Militant Organizations. “Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.” Stanford University. Last modified August 2018. https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/bangsomoro-islamic-freedom-fighters

Organizational Overview

Formed: December 2010

Disbanded: Group is active.

First Attack: August 5, 2012: BIFF members launched attacks on eleven towns in the province of Maguindanao, focusing on Philippine military targets. Fighting between the BIFF and government forces lasted until the following day (3 killed, 1+ wounded).[1]  

Last Attack: December 25, 2017: Insurgents attacked a military unit in Maitemaig, Datu Unsay, Maguindanao, Philippines. No group claimed responsibility but the attack was attributed to the BIFF. (10 killed, 5 wounded).[2]

 

Executive Summary

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), sometimes called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), is an Islamic separatist organization based in the southern Philippines. It seeks an independent Islamic state for the Filipino Muslim minority, known as the Moro people, who live primarily in the Philippines’ Mindanao region. The BIFF was founded in 2010 by Ameril Umbra Kato as a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It has attacked government forces and civilian targets, especially to undermine peace talks between the MILF and the Philippine government.

 

Group Narrative

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), sometimes called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), is an Islamic separatist organization based in the southern Philippines. It seeks an independent Islamic state for the Filipino Muslim minority, known as the Moro people, who live primarily in the Philippines’ Mindanao region.[3]

The BIFF was founded in 2010 by Ameril Umbra Kato as a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), itself a splinter group of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Kato had studied Islam in Saudi Arabia and was a member of the MNLF, which had emerged in the 1970s. When Hashim Salamat, another MNLF member, broke from the group to found the MILF in the 1980s, Kato followed him.[4] Eventually, Kato became chief of the MILF’s 105th Base Command. Kato, who espoused an extreme version of Islam and admired Wahhabism, persistently advocated an independent Islamic state even as the MILF became more amenable to autonomy instead of independence after Salamat’s 2003 death and replacement by Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. Disagreements between Kato and the MILF leadership became prominent in 2008, when Kato led his forces in a violent campaign against non-Muslim villages.[5] His group conducted raids, destroyed property, and decapitated civilians for six months, sparking a brutal response from the Philippine military that displaced over half a million people. [6] Kato launched these attacks to protest a Philippine Supreme Court decision, in which a peace agreement that the MILF and the Philippine government had nearly signed was declared unconstitutional. However, Kato’s forces conducted their violent campaign without the MILF leadership’s permission, and in response, the MILF demoted Kato and distanced itself from the attacks. [7]

In December 2010, Kato left the MILF and established the BIFF, which mostly included members of the MILF’s 105th Base Command and mainly operated in the province of Maguindanao. Kato announced that five thousand fighters had left the MILF to join the BIFF, but the actual number was widely believed to be around three hundred.[8]

There is little information about the BIFF’s early activities. The BIFF has mainly attacked government forces and has also had skirmishes with the MILF’s armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). The groups have fought mostly over control of territory in Maguindanao.[9]

In November 2011, Kato suffered a stroke that rendered him immobile. He remained in hiding, with his followers moving him to various locations over the next few years.[10] Soon after Kato’s stroke, Mohammad Ali Tambako was appointed to replace Kato as the BIFF’s leader.[11] Tambako had been referred to as the BIFF’s vice chair or vice president, but he effectively led the BIFF after Kato’s stroke until his arrest in March, 2015.[12]

The BIFF’s relationship with the MILF is unclear. The BIFF has launched attacks intended to undermine the MILF’s peace talks with the Philippine government, including a violent campaign against eleven villages in Maguindanao that caused over 24,000 residents to flee their homes in August 2012. [13] However, later that same month, the BIFF announced a temporary halt of its attacks at the MILF’s request in order to allow for the scheduled resumption of MILF-Philippine government talks in Malaysia.[14] The peace was short-lived as fighting between the BIFF and government forces soon erupted again.  [15]

In 2013, Tambako left or was expelled from the BIFF after he led some supporters in an attack on the Christian population of the city of Midsayap, during which his forces decapitated a farmer. He then established another militant group called the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM).[16] However, Tambako retained some influence over the BIFF and may have rejoined the group a short time afterward; the BIFF and the JIM have reportedly worked together.[17]

As the MILF and the MNLF have turned more toward political avenues for achieving their goals, the BIFF has become one of the most prominent Muslim separatist groups conducting attacks in the Philippines. On January 27, 2014, government forces launched Operation Darkhorse, a major offensive against the BIFF. Operation Darkhorse lasted until February 2014 and resulted in significant losses to the BIFF, including fifty-two deaths, forty-nine injuries, and the destruction of four camps, one of which held the BIFF’s facility for the production of bombs. The operation also displaced over 35,000 people in the provinces of Maguindanao and Cotabato.[18] While the BIFF has expressed some willingness for peace negotiations, the Philippine government has not engaged in talks with the group.[19] In August 2014, the BIFF declared allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), although the declaration seemingly entailed no more than a pledge of support and has been viewed by the Philippine military as an attempt to exploit the global reputation of IS. IS has not issued a response to the BIFF’s declaration of allegiance.[20] Meanwhile, the BIFF has continued its attacks in Maguindanao, including bombings targeting civilians and attacking the Philippine military.[21]

On January 25, 2015, BIFF and MILF members were involved in an attack on Philippine Special Action Force (SAF) soldiers who were targeting two prominent bomb-makers wanted by the U.S. and Philippine governments. Both bomb-makers were living under the BIFF’s protection in Maguindanao... One was a Malaysian bomb-maker named Zulkifli Abdhir, also known as Marwan, who had provided bomb production training for various organizations, including the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). Marwan was killed during the operation.[22] The SAF’s second target was another bomb-maker, Abdul Basit Usman, who was also believed to lead a special operations division within the BIFF. Usman escaped during the battle. The SAF operation resulted in forty-four SAF troop deaths and a backlash against the MILF-Philippine government peace process because of MILF members’ involvement in attacking the troopers.[23]

The BIFF suffered several leadership losses in 2015. Government forces captured Tambako on March 15, and one month later, Kato—still in hiding—died from natural causes.[24] Ismael Abubakar, who led the BIFF’s political affairs division, was then chosen to head the BIFF.[25]  In addition, Usman was killed in May, likely by bodyguards who attempted to collect the bounty on him that was offered by the United States government.[26]

As written in the profile on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, on July 27, 2015, the Philippine House of Representatives began deliberations on the Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR), also known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).[27] If ratified, this law would officially abolish the ARMM and provide for transition to a Bangsamoro government, which would likely be led by MILF members.[28] The failure since 2015 to pass the law created opportunities for conflict. In March, 2018, government forces conducted a raid on BIFF fighters, killing at least 44 and wounding 26 others. One week after the offensive, MILF vice-chairman Ghazali Jaafar expressed to the government that the Philippine government’s inability to pass the law has instigated more conflict in Mindanao as some groups, like the BIFF, once again favor violent means of ending the conflict. [29]

In June and July of 2018, the military conducted raids against the BIFF in central Mindanao, resulting in the death of 45 militants and 4 soldiers and the wounding of some 28 more militants and 20 more soldiers.[30]

On July 24, 2018, the Philippine House of Representatives passed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), the final name of the former BBL.[31] With President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing the bill into law, a Muslim regional entity was created in Mindanao. With the bill’s passing, the MILF, representatives of which were present during the signing of the bill in Manila, declared its support. MILF leader Ebrahim declared that 30-40,000 fighters would be decommissioned.[32] No response from the BIFF has yet been reported.



[1] “3 killed in rebel attacks in Maguindanao.” Rappler, 6 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[2] "Incident Summary: Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement." County-Level Correlates of Terrorist Attacks in the United States | START.umd.edu. July 2018. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/IncidentSummary.aspx?gtdid=20171224....

[3] Chalk, Peter. “The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: The Newest Obstacles to Peace in the Southern Philippines?” CTC Sentinel 6.11-6.12 (November 2013): 15-17. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Santos, Jr., Soliman M. and Paz Verdades M. Santos. Primed and Purposeful: Armed Groups and Human Security Efforts in the Philippines. Geneva: Small Arms Survey, April 2010. Print.

[4] Santos, Jr., Soliman M. and Paz Verdades M. Santos. Primed and Purposeful: Armed Groups and Human Security Efforts in the Philippines. Geneva: Small Arms Survey, April 2010. Print.

[5] “Rogue MILF commander forms splinter group.” Inquirer, 19 Aug. 2011. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[6] Unson, John. “BIFF founder Umbra Kato dies.” Philstar, 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[7] Chalk, Peter. “The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: The Newest Obstacles to Peace in the Southern Philippines?” CTC Sentinel 6.11-6.12 (November 2013): 15-17. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Wilson, Jr., Thomas G. “Extending the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front a Catalyst for Peace.” Monograph. School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 2009. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Scarpello, Fabio. “Divide and rule: Controlling the MILF’s fractured factions.” Jane’s Intelligence Review (July 2010): 13-17. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[8] Chalk, Peter. “The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: The Newest Obstacles to Peace in the Southern Philippines?” CTC Sentinel 6.11-6.12 (November 2013): 15-17. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Welch, Ivan. “Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines: Bangsamoro.” OE Watch 3.5 (May 2013). Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[9] Chalk, Peter. “The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: The Newest Obstacles to Peace in the Southern Philippines?” CTC Sentinel 6.11-6.12 (November 2013): 15-17. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “Philippine militants’ opposition to peace process, growing links with the Islamic State raise terrorism risks within Mindanao.” IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[10] Unson, John. “BIFF founder Umbra Kato dies.” Philstar, 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[11] Chalk, Peter. “The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: The Newest Obstacles to Peace in the Southern Philippines?” CTC Sentinel 6.11-6.12 (November 2013): 15-17. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[12] Marcelo, Elizabeth. “BIFF, Justice for Islamic Movement weaken with Tambako’s arrest.” GMA News, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Cabrera, Ferdinandh. “Ex-BIFF vice chair Tambako, 5 others arrested in GenSan; Usman still elusive.” GMA News, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[13] Manlupig, Karlos. “Conflict displaces 24,000 in Maguindanao.” Rappler, 8 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[14] “Peace talks resume after deadly attacks.” Rappler, 7 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Manlupig, Karlos. “MILF opens door for ex-comrades.” Rappler, 16 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[15] Manlupig, Karlos. “BIFF to stop attacks—for now.” Rappler, 29 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Manlupig, Karlos. “Military attacks major Moro rebel camp.” Rappler, 7 July 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[16] Marcelo, Elizabeth. “BIFF, Justice for Islamic Movement weaken with Tambako’s arrest.” GMA News, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[17] “Philippines security forces capture Islamic militant leader Mohammad Ali Tambako.” South China Morning Post, 12 May 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Cabrera, Ferdinandh. “Ex-BIFF vice chair Tambako, 5 others arrested in GenSan; Usman still elusive.” GMA News, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “Arrest of Tambako has weakened BIFF—military.” Inquirer, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “Press statement on the arrest of Mohammad Ali Tambako.” Armed Forces of the Philippines, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[18] Aben, Elena L. “AFP ends offensive with fall of BIFF main lair.” Manila Bulletin, 3 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “US govt lists NPA, Abu Sayyaf, JI among foreign terrorist organizations in PHL.” GMA News, 20 June 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[19] “’BIFF open to talks.’” Rappler, 29 Jan. 2014.Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[20] Agence France-Presse. “Philippine militants pledge allegiance to ISIS jihadists.” Rappler, 15 Aug. 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[21] Gutierrez, Natashya. “Aquino set to visit Davao despite Mindanao violence.” Rappler, 8 Aug. 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “5 BIFF rebels killed in Cotabato fighting—military.” Rappler, 11 Aug. 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[22] Iaccino, Ludovica. “Philippines BIFF rebels: Terrorist Abdul Basit Usman killed by own bodyguards for $1m bounty.” International Business Times, 4 May 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Killing Marwan in Mindanao. IPAC Report No. 17. Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.

[23] Samson-Espiritu, Arlene and Tim Hume. “Philippines honors 44 slain commandos with day of mourning.” CNN, 30 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Casauay, Angela. “MILF conducts own probe into Maguindanao clash.” Rappler, 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “MILF, BIFF names involved in SAF 44 killing forwarded to DOJ—PNP.” Inquirer, 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Agence France-Presse. “PH military hunts ‘coddled’ most-wanted bombmaker.” Rappler, 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[24] “Philippines security forces capture Islamic militant leader Mohammad Ali Tambako.” South China Morning Post, 12 May 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[25] Andong, Lore Mae. “BIFF confirms Kato’s death; replacement named.” ABS-CBN News, 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[26] Unson, John. “BIFF founder Umbra Kato dies.” Philstar, 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Iaccino, Ludovica. “Philippines BIFF rebels: Terrorist Abdul Basit Usman killed by own bodyguards for $1m bounty.” International Business Times, 4 May 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[27] Arcangel, Xianne. “BBL tops House’s agenda 16th Congress’ 3rd and final session.” GMA News, 6 July 2015.

[28] Philippines. Bangsamoro Transition Commission. “Primer on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.” Web. 10 July 2015.

[29] “Philippines Muslim leaders ‘tired of waiting’ for Bangsamoro law.” Al Jazeera, 13 Mar. 2018. Web. 9 July, 2018. < https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/03/philippines-muslim-leaders-tired-...

[30] “45 BIFF, 4 soldiers killed in anti-terror operations”. Manila Times, 9 July, 2018. Web. 24 July, 2018. http://www.manilatimes.net/45-biff-4-soldiers-killed-in-anti-terror-oper....

[31] Diaz, Jess. “House ratifies Bangsamoro Organic Law”. Philstar, 25 July, 2018. Web. 24 July, 2018 (Manila time is +1 day). <https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/07/25/1836632/house-ratifies-ban....

[32] Associated Press, “Philippine rebel chief: 30,000 rebels to be disarmed in deal”. Philstar, 25 July, 2018. Web. 24 July, 2018 (Manila time is +1 day). <https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/07/25/1836474/philippine-rebel-c....

 

Organizational Structure

Leadership, Name Changes, Size Estimates, Resources, Geographic Locations

    Leadership
  • Leadership
  • Name Changes
  • Size Estimates
  • Resources
  • Geographic Locations

Leadership

There is little information regarding the BIFF’s leadership structure.

Ameril Umbra Kato (2010 to 2011): Kato was the BIFF’s founder and first leader. He established the BIFF in December 2010 after leaving the MILF. In November 2011, Kato suffered a severe stroke; he went into hiding and remained paralyzed until his death in April 2015.[1]

Mohammad Ali Tambako (2011 to Unknown): Tambako was appointed as the BIFF’s leader after Kato suffered a severe stroke in November 2011. Tambako left or was expelled from the BIFF in 2013 after leading some supporters in an attack on the Christian population of the city of Midsayap, during which his forces decapitated a farmer. [2] He then established another militant group called the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM).[3] However, Tambako retained some influence over the BIFF and may have rejoined the group a short time afterward; the BIFF and the JIM have reportedly worked together. Government forces arrested Tambako on March 15, 2015.[4]

Abdul Basit Usman (Unknown to 2015): Usman was a BIFF member and bombmaking expert who led a special operations division within the BIFF. He was a member of the MILF before breaking away from the group with Kato, who founded the BIFF. Usman had links to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), and he was one of the most wanted individuals in the Philippines. He was killed in May 2015, allegedly by bodyguards who wanted to collect a bounty from the U.S. government.[5]

Ismael Abubakar (2015 to Present): Abubakar, also known as Kumander Bungos, is the BIFF’s appointed leader. He served as the BIFF’s chief of political affairs before being chosen to head the BIFF upon Kato’s death in April 2015.[6]



[1] Fernandez, Amanda. “Ameril Umbra Kato, rogue MILF leader and founder of BIFF.” GMA News, 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “Rogue MILF commander forms splinter group.” Inquirer, 19 Aug. 2011. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[2] Cabrera, Ferdinandh. “Ex-BIFF vice chair Tambako, 5 others arrested in GenSan; Usman still elusive.” GMA News, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[3] “Philippines security forces capture Islamic militant leader Mohammad Ali Tambako.” South China Morning Post, 12 May 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[4] “Arrest of Tambako has weakened BIFF—military.” Inquirer, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Cabrera, Ferdinandh. “Ex-BIFF vice chair Tambako, 5 others arrested in GenSan; Usman still elusive.” GMA News, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “Press statement on the arrest of Mohammad Ali Tambako.” Armed Forces of the Philippines, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Marcelo, Elizabeth. “BIFF, Justice for Islamic Movement weaken with Tambako’s arrest.” GMA News, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[5] Robillos, Alyosha J. “Who is Basit Usman?” CNN, 5 May 2015.Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Navarro, Louie U. “AFP: Usman killed by followers—not MILF—for $1M bounty.” CNN, 4 May 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[6] Andong, Lore Mae. “BIFF confirms Kato’s death; replacement named.” ABS-CBN News, 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “Kumander Bungos is new BIFF head.” GMA News, 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

 

Name Changes

There are no recorded name changes for this group.

Size Estimates

  • 2010: 300 (Combating Terrorism Center)[1]


[1] Chalk, Peter. “The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: The Newest Obstacles to Peace in the Southern Philippines?” CTC Sentinel 6.11-6.12 (November 2013): 15-17. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

 

Resources

Kato absconded with weapons from the MILF’s 105th Base Command, the MILF’s biggest and most well-armed field division, when he broke from the organization in December 2010. Consequently, the BIFF possesses a large stockpile of pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles, IEDs, landmines, and more.[1]

According to the Philippine military, the BIFF funds itself through extortion. The BIFF itself has claimed that it receives money and food donations from politicians, businessmen, and community members, describing these donations as charity rather than taxation. There is little additional information about the group’s financial sources.[2]



[1] Chalk, Peter. “The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: The Newest Obstacles to Peace in the Southern Philippines?” CTC Sentinel 6.11-6.12 (November 2013): 15-17. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[2] Manlupig, Karlos. “The BIFF-ISIS connection and social media.” Rappler, 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

 

Geographic Locations

Disclaimer: This is a partial list of where the militant organization has bases and where it operates. This does not include information on where the group conducts major attacks or has external influences. 

The BIFF is concentrated in the provinces of Maguindanao and Cotabato, located in the Mindanao region of the southern Philippines. It has mostly operated within those provinces.[1]



[1] Chalk, Peter. “The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: The Newest Obstacles to Peace in the Southern Philippines?” CTC Sentinel 6.11-6.12 (November 2013): 15-17. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

 

Strategy

Ideology, Aims, Political Activities, Targets, and Tactics

    Ideology and Goals
  • Ideology and Goals
  • Political Activities
  • Targets and Tactics

Ideology and Goals

The BIFF is an Islamist organization that seeks to establish an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines for the Filipino Muslim minority, known as the Moro people. The BIFF was formed as a splinter group of the MILF in response to the latter’s acceptance of an autonomy arrangement rather than full independence during negotiations with the government.  BIFF espoused an extreme version of Islam and admired Wahhabism.[1]



[1] Chalk, Peter. “The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: The Newest Obstacles to Peace in the Southern Philippines?” CTC Sentinel 6.11-6.12 (November 2013): 15-17. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

 

Political Activities

While the BIFF has expressed some willingness for peace negotiations, it has never engaged in peace talks or any other form of nonviolent political activity. The BIFF specifically promotes armed struggle as the means of achieving an independent Moro state. The BIFF has conducted attacks to destabilize ceasefire agreements and discourage peace negotiations between the government and the MILF. In August 2012, the BIFF attacked eleven villages in Maguindanao just as MILF-Philippine government peace talks were scheduled to resume.[1]



[1] “BIFF open to talks.” Rappler, 29 Jan. 2014.Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Manlupig, Karlos. “Soldier injured in Cotabato rebel attack.” 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “3 killed in rebel attacks in Maguindanao.” Rappler, 6 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

 

Targets and Tactics

Since its 2010 formation, the BIFF has mainly attacked government forces, including police and military facilities.[1] Besides clashing with Philippine soldiers, the BIFF has also attacked civilian targets through bombings and raids, especially in attempts to undermine the MILF-Philippine government peace process.[2] At least one BIFF attack, led by BIFF leader Mohammad Ali Tambako in 2013, has specifically targeted Christians.[3] BIFF attacks often utilize IEDs triggered by mobile phones, and they have generally resulted in fewer than twelve casualties.[4]



[1] Chalk, Peter. “The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: The Newest Obstacles to Peace in the Southern Philippines?” CTC Sentinel 6.11-6.12 (November 2013): 15-17. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Carcamo, Dennis, and John Unson. “BIFF men attack PNP, Army posts in Maguindanao.” Philstar, 20 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[2] “Philippine militants’ opposition to peace process, growing links with the Islamic State raise terrorism risks within Mindanao.” IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[3] Cabrera, Ferdinandh. “Ex-BIFF vice chair Tambako, 5 others arrested in GenSan; Usman still elusive.” GMA News, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[4] Gutierrez, Natashya. “Aquino set to visit Davao despite Mindanao violence.” Rappler, 8 Aug. 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “5 BIFF rebels killed in Cotabato fighting—military.” Rappler, 11 Aug. 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “3 killed in rebel attacks in Maguindanao.” Rappler, 6 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

 

Major Attacks

Disclaimer: These are some selected major attacks in the militant organization’s history. It is not a comprehensive listing but captures some of the most famous attacks or turning points during the campaign.

August 5, 2012: BIFF members launched attacks on eleven towns in the province of Maguindanao, focusing on Philippine military targets. Fighting between the BIFF and government forces lasted until the following day. (3 killed, 1+ wounded).[1]

January 28, 2014: The Philippine National Police (PNP) blamed the BIFF for bombing a bus terminal in Maguindanao in an attempt to distract government forces pursuing high-ranking BIFF leaders. The BIFF denied responsibility for the attack. (0 killed, 2 wounded).[2]

December 9, 2014: The BIFF bombed a bus in the province of Bukidnon. Philippine authorities alleged that the attack was a test for new BIFF recruits and may also have been to attempt to extort the bus company, which had previously received demands for payment to the BIFF. (11 killed, 31 wounded).[3]

January 25, 2015: Philippine Special Action Force (SAF) soldiers targeted two key bomb-makers in an operation in Maguindanao.[4] During the pursuit, the soldiers were attacked by rebel forces that included BIFF members.[5] Consideration of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, an important element of the MILF-Philippine government negotiations, was temporarily suspended after this attack. (~67 killed, 12+ wounded).[6]

December 30-31, 2016: As in 2012, BIFF members attacked several villages with rifles and IEDs, focusing this time on a Philippine Army detachment in Datu Salibo, Maguindanao. Seven BIFF members were reportedly killed, and five others were wounded, during the raid on the Army detachment. A soldier’s wife was reported to be wounded. (7 killed, 6 wounded).[7]



[1] “3 killed in rebel attacks in Maguindanao.” Rappler, 6 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[2] Manlupig, Karlos. “Blast hurts girl, pregnant woman.” Rappler, 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “US govt lists NPA, Abu Sayyaf, JI among foreign terrorist organizations in PHL.” GMA News, 20 June 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[3] Tesiorna, Ben O., and Ivy C. Tejano. “Bukidnon bombers are ‘BIFF new recuits on test mission.’” Sun Star, 10 Dec. 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[4] Samson-Espiritu, Arlene and Tim Hume. “Philippines honors 44 slain commandos with day of mourning.” CNN, 30 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[5] Fernandez, Amanda. “Roxas: 44 killed, 12 wounded in Mamasapano ‘misencounter.’” GMA News, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[6] Casauay, Angela. “MILF conducts own probe into Maguindanao clash.” Rappler, 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Unson, John and Alexis Romero. “Iqbal justifies attack; toll soars to 49.” The Philippine Star, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Geronimo, Jee Y. “‘Should we disregard history, hard work on Bangsamoro law?’” Rappler, 28 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Unson, John. “Maguindanaon bomber Basit Usman killed?” Philstar, 3 May 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[7]  Julmunir I. Jannaral. “AFP braces for more BIFF attacks in ARMM”. Manila Times, 4 Jan. 2017. Web. 16 July 2018. <http://www.manilatimes.net/afp-braces-biff-attacks-armm/305185/>

 

Interactions

Foreign Designations and Listings, Community Relations, Relations with Other Groups, State Sponsors and External Influences

    Designated/Listed
  • Designated/Listed
  • Community Relations
  • Relationships with Other Groups
  • State Sponsors and External Influences

Designated/Listed

The BIFF is not designated as a terrorist organization by the United States or the European Union.[1]



[1] “Foreign Terrorist Organizations”. US Department of State. Web. 21 July, 2018. <https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm>

 

Community Relations

The extent of public support for the BIFF is unclear. Fighting between the BIFF and Philippine forces or the MILF has displaced many people in the southern region of Mindanao. In August 2012, the BIFF launched a violent campaign against eleven villages in the province of Maguindanao that caused over 24,000 residents to flee their homes.[1] In late December 2016 the group did much the same, attacking several villages and an Army installation.[2]



[1] “Peace talks resume after deadly attacks.” Rappler, 7 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Manlupig, Karlos. “Conflict displaces 24,000 in Maguindanao.” Rappler, 8 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[2] Julmunir I. Jannaral. “AFP braces for more BIFF attacks in ARMM”. Manila Times, 4 Jan. 2017. Web. 16 July 2018. <http://www.manilatimes.net/afp-braces-biff-attacks-armm/305185/>

 

Relationships with Other Groups

The BIFF broke away from the MILF in December 2010, and relations between the two groups have generally been hostile. The BIFF has clashed with the MILF’s armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), fighting mostly over control of territory in Maguindanao.[1] The BIFF has launched attacks intended to undermine the MILF’s peace talks with the Philippine government, including the August 2012 campaign against eleven villages in Maguindanao that caused over 24,000 residents to flee their homes.[2]

Later the same month, however, the BIFF announced a temporary halt of its attacks at the MILF’s request in order to allow for the scheduled resumption of MILF-Philippine government talks in Malaysia.[3] The MILF also announced that it was engaged in talks with the BIFF, encouraging it to return to its parent organization, although the BIFF ultimately rejected the idea.[4] Peace was short-lived as fighting between the BIFF and government forces soon erupted again.[5] On January 25, 2015, BIFF and MILF members were involved in an attack on Philippine Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who were targeting two key bomb-makers in an operation in Maguindanao. The battle resulted in forty-four SAF soldiers’ deaths and a backlash against the MILF-Philippine government peace process. However, whether the BIFF and MILF members cooperated in the attack is unclear.[6]

In February 2014, the MNLF announced an alliance with the BIFF. Both groups oppose the current MILF-Philippine government peace talks. The extent of the alliance is unclear.[7] The BIFF may also be allied with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), another Islamic separatist group in the Philippines. On September 12, 2013, a combined total of 150 BIFF and ASG members conducted a joint attack against government forces on the island of Basilan.[8]

Additionally, the BIFF has worked with the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM), a splinter group established in 2013 by Mohammad Ali Tambako after he left or was expelled from the BIFF.[9] Tambako may have rejoined the BIFF a short time afterward, and the BIFF and the JIM have allegedly allied themselves against government forces.[10]

Regarding militant groups outside the Philippines, the BIFF may have some ties to the Islamic State (IS). The BIFF declared allegiance to IS in a YouTube video uploaded on August 13, 2014; however, the Philippine authorities have dismissed the announcement as propaganda. There is no evidence of BIFF members traveling abroad to fight alongside IS, nor is there evidence of financial, logistical, or other relationships between the BIFF and IS.[11]



[1] Chalk, Peter. “The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: The Newest Obstacles to Peace in the Southern Philippines?” CTC Sentinel 6.11-6.12 (November 2013): 15-17. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “Philippine militants’ opposition to peace process, growing links with the Islamic State raise terrorism risks within Mindanao.” IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[2] Manlupig, Karlos. “Conflict displaces 24,000 in Maguindanao.” Rappler, 8 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[3] “Peace talks resume after deadly attacks.” Rappler, 7 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[4] Manlupig, Karlos. “MILF opens door for ex-comrades.” Rappler, 16 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[5] Manlupig, Karlos. “Conflict displaces 24,000 in Maguindanao.” Rappler, 8 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Manlupig, Karlos. “BIFF to stop attacks—for now.” Rappler, 29 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Manlupig, Karlos. “Military attacks major Moro rebel camp.” Rappler, 7 July 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[6] Samson-Espiritu, Arlene and Tim Hume. “Philippines honors 44 slain commandos with day of mourning.” CNN, 30 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Casauay, Angela. “MILF conducts own probe into Maguindanao clash.” Rappler, 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “MILF, BIFF names involved in SAF 44 killing forwarded to DOJ—PNP.” Inquirer, 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[7] “MNLF, BIFF form alliance—report.” GMA News, 4 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[8] Whaley, Floyd. “New Clash in the Philippines Raises Fears of a Wider Threat.” The New York Times, 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[9] “Philippines security forces capture Islamic militant leader Mohammad Ali Tambako.” South China Morning Post, 12 May 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Cabrera, Ferdinandh. “Ex-BIFF vice chair Tambako, 5 others arrested in GenSan; Usman still elusive.” GMA News, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[10] “Arrest of Tambako has weakened BIFF—military.” Inquirer, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., “Press statement on the arrest of Mohammad Ali Tambako.” Armed Forces of the Philippines, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015. Marcelo, Elizabeth. “BIFF, Justice for Islamic Movement weaken with Tambako’s arrest.” GMA News, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015., Echeminada, Perseus. “BIFF putting up united front with other gorups.” Philstar, 7 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

[11] Agence France-Presse. “Philippine militants pledge allegiance to ISIS jihadists.” Rappler, 15 Aug. 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

 

State Sponsors and External Influences

There is no observable evidence that this group receives external support from foreign governments or third parties.

Maps

The project develops a series of interactive diagrams that "map" relationships among groups and show how those relationships change over time. The user can change map settings to display different features (e.g., leadership changes), adjust the time scale, and trace individual groups.