Former political affairs chief leads Bangsamoro group

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The new Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) leader also known as Commander Bungos reportedly studied in the Middle East.

(CNN Philippines) — The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is now under a new leader.

Sheik Ismail Abubakar, the group's former vice chairperson for political affairs, was proclaimed head of the BIFF on Tuesday (April 14) after the passing of the rogue group's founding leader, Al-Ustaj Amiril Umbra Kato.

This was confirmed to CNN Philippines on Wednesday (April 15) by BIFF spokersperson Abu Missry Mama in an exclusive phone interview aired over Headlines.

Abubakar, also known as Commander Bungos, studied in the Middle East and is an expert in Shariah law. He also served as the commander of the 105th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Although they continue to grieve the loss of their founder, Mama said members of the BIFF carry on as a new chapter unfolded for the Bangsamoro group.

"Ang pagkamatay ng aming pinuno ay malaking kawalan sa amin pero itinuturing naming itong pagsubok ni Allah dahil namatay man siya ay hindi namatay ang kanyang inimplementa na galing sa Quran," Mama said.

[The death of our founding leader is a big loss but we take it as a challenge by Allah because the legacy from Quran will live on.]

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, meanwhile, was surprised with the appointment of Abubakar — citing that he was a low-key personality in the militant group.

On Tuesday, the AFP mentioned Kagi Karialan, BIFF chief-of-staff, as Kato's possible successor.

"Kagi Karialan is a military tactician and they call it powder keg mentality, or utak pulbura. And this Sheik Ismail Abubakar Bungos is a political strategist. These are the dynamics in  their organization right now," said Brigadier Gen. Joselito Kakilala, AFP spokesperson.

The military also cited three possible reasons why the BIFF chose Bungos over Karialan:

  • The BIFF no longer wanted to be associated with ISIS — Karialan is a known supporter of the international terrorist group.
  • Bloodline prevailed in the succession — Bungos is Kato's nephew.
  • Karialan could have been heavily wounded during the all-out offensives of government forces against the BIFF. It is possible that physically, he can no longer lead the group.

"There was one instance that Commander Bisaya was killed in a clash in Datu Unsay area. It was reported that Kagi Karialan was with him. We don't know if he was also wounded at that time," Kakilala said.

But the AFP official remained confident that the Islamist militants will weaken under the new leadership.

He added that the military will continue running after the BIFF, especially because the group remained a coddler of bomb maker Basit Usman.

CNN Philippine's Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.