Report: BIFF ‘most likely’ behind CDO bombing

A risk control organization says the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters wants to show it's a 'serious threat to be reckoned with'

SERIOUS THREAT? A file photo of members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

MANILA, Philippines – A risk control organization hired to investigate the deadly July 26 Cagayan de Oro (CDO) bombing believes the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) “could be most likely behind the bombing incident in Cagayan de Oro City.”

The BIFF is a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is holding peace talks with the government.

In a report prepared by the organization for its client, a foreign company doing business in Mindanao, the agency labeled the blast as a “terror bombing attack” and said the BIFF “is the only armed group with the capability and the motive to conduct such a terrorist activity.” 

It also asked its clients to avoid non-essential travel to Mindanao until the culprits have been identified and apprehended.

Its assessment is separate from the ongoing probe being conducted by the Philippine National Police (PNP). Police have yet to identify suspects or determine a motive.

On Friday night, July 26, Cagayan De Oro City was rocked by an explosion after a still-unidentified person left an improvised explosive device concealed in a black bag on a black monoblock chair outside Kyla’s Bistro. The attack left 8 dead and 46 wounded, all civilians.

‘Secessionist force’

The report, released to Rappler on the condition we do not identify the risk control organization, looked at 5 armed groups that have been responsible for past bombings targeting civilians, including the MILF, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Al-Khobar Gang and BIFF.

It discounted the MILF as the likely culprit, citing the ongoing peace talks with the government and its open cooperation with the administration in running after rogue groups.

The report also concluded that while MNLF chairman Nur Misuari has been outspoken in his criticism of the government’s current talks with the MILF, his troops are based in Western Mindanao and do not have the capability to mount attacks outside their bailiwicks.

The ASG was also excluded because of the neutralization of ASG’s key leaders and its focus of past attacks in areas surrounding Zamboanga and Sulu. The group also ruled out the criminal extortion syndicate Al-Khobar Gang, which has not been very active lately and is known to target bus companies in Region 12.

The report concluded the BIFF is behind the blast, citing the group’s strong opposition to the peace process. It also pointed to BIFF’s recent attacks in North Cotabato and Maguindanao — the latest of which was the July 30 attack on army detachments in Guindulungan, Maguindanao.

“The BIFF is apparently bracing itself to become the next major Muslim secessionist force in Mindanao after the MILF succeeded in concluding a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the government last year that could eventually lead to a final peace accord soon,” the report said.

It compared its actions with the MILF in [1996], when the MNLF signed a peace accord with the Ramos government, adding “the same vicious cycle of violence and terror is again being initiated by the BIFF to show that it has evolved as a serious threat to be reckoned with.”

History of violence

According to the military, at least 31 Muslim rebels and 5 soldiers were killed in clashes ahead of the resumption of peace talks.

The BIFF ambushed an army truck and attacked an army camp on July 6, just two days before the MILF and the government were to resume talks in Kuala Lumpur.

Back then, Ghazali Jaafar, vice chairman for political affairs of the MILF, told television network ABS-CBN his group was closely monitoring military operations against the BIFF.

“This operation might escalate into wider areas. We are very much concerned because we don’t want that to happen,” he said.

The BIFF is led by Ameril Umra Kato, a Saudi Arabia-trained cleric who had commanded an elite MILF unit.

He and his unit were blamed for a series of raids across Mindanao in 2008 that left nearly 400 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.

The MILF expelled Umra Kato in 2011 for his hardline stance against the peace talks. – Rappler.com

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