Threat of BIFF attack sends Cotabato families fleeing
(UPDATED) More than 250 families seek temporarily shelter at the municipal gymnasium of Kabacan town, fearing a repeat of attacks by Muslim rebels years ago

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – More than 250 families sought temporarily shelter at the municipal gymnasium of Kabacan town Tuesday night, September 23, amid threats of attack by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Starting late Tuesday afternoon until midnight, residents of Lower Paatan and Kuyapon villages fled their homes after receiving reports that a number of renegade rebels were planning to launch an attack on inner barangays of Kabacan town.

The military confirmed the report and said it “successfully repelled” the rebels after an hour-long firefight.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, inspector general of the military’s 6th Infantry Division, said combined elements of the 7th Infantry Battalion and the 38th Infantry Brigade successfully repelled the BIFF in Sitio Maligaya, Barangay Lower Malamote at around 10:30 pm on Tuesday.

“Firefight lasted for about an hour without inflicting any harm to the civilians and government troops. However, the BIFF harassment brought fear to the innocent civilians,” Hermoso said.

BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama confirmed that their forces were behind the attack, claiming it is “punitive action” against government forces, but the military said the rebels were trying to make their presence felt in the community since it is already harvest season.

Led by former 105th base commander Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato, the BIFF splintered from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after serious disagreements with the conduct of the talks.

Unlike the MILF, the BIFF is waging a struggle to establish an independent Islamic state in Mindanao.

A few years ago, the BIFF attacked these same villages, displacing hundreds of families as well.

Barangay (village) officials and tanod (watchers) assisted the fleeing families toward the town proper, according to municipal social workers.

Police and the military in Kabacan town have tightened security in the area. – with reports from Karlos Manlupig/