ZAMBOANGA CITY: One of the Philippines’ most wanted rebel leader, Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato, reportedly died following a massive heart attack on Tuesday in Maguindanao province.
Military intelligence agents, quoting reliable sources, claimed that Kato died of cardiac arrest at around 2 a.m. His remains are reportedly in Barangay Kateman, Guindulungan, Maguindanao.
Kato was said to have suffered a stroke in November 2011 and on April 7 this year.
“Our intelligence units are still confirming it. But the information is a welcome development. Kato is the source of inspiration by the members of the BIFF who joined him in waging violent attacks against peaceful communities,” AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala said.
If Kato is indeed dead, Kakilala said the BIFF will lose its influence and will see its gradual demise.
Kato’s right-hand man, Commander Muhaiden Animbang alias Kagi Karialan, who is described as a “hardliner,” is expected to take over as the new BIFF leader. But there were also reports that a little known jihadist, Sheik Mohidin Animbang, has taken over Kato’s leadership.
Kato split with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after accusing its leader, Murad Ebrahim, of abandoning their struggle for independence and betraying the rebel group when he agreed to a secret meeting called by President Benigno Aquino in Japan in August 2011.
“Murad corrupted the rights of the Bangsamoro people,” Kato had said following that meeting in Tokyo.
Kato’s group vowed to disrupt the peace talks between the MILF and the Aquino government and pursue an independent Muslim state in Mindanao.
The military earlier claimed that half of the strength of the BIFF was neutralized by an all-out offensive launched from February 25 to March 30 this year.
Former Basilan congressman Gerry Salapuddin described Kato as a “true mujahid (freedom fighter).”
“A Mujahid is like a candle in the dark that burns itself, just to give light to others. He died a poor man fighting for his belief and principle, not for any worldly rewards,” Salapuddin, a former commander of the Moro National Liberation Front, said.
WITH JULMUNIR I. JANNARAL