COTABATO CITY — The founding chair of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is dead, rebel leaders and local officials today confirmed.
Uztadz Ameril Umra Kato died at about 2 a.m. Tuesday, said Mohaqher Iqbal, chief negotiator of the MILF. Iqbal could not say where.
“Our information was he passed away due to cardiac arrest,” Iqbal told reporters.
Mayor Samsodin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao also confirmed the death of Kato.
Quoting Kato’s relatives and close allies, Dimaukom said the BIFF founding chair suffered a cardiac arrest at 2:30 a.m. today in his hideout in a remote village of Guindulungan, Maguindanao.
“His relatives confirmed to me that he succumbed to cardiac arrest,” Dimaukom said, adding that the 78 year old renegade leader also suffered a mild stroke last two years ago.
Dimaukom said relatives and friends, including BIFF members, are now attending to his remains in an undisclosed area in Guindulungan.
Kato will be buried within 24 hours from the time he died according to Islamic tradition.
Dimaukom could not say where is the remain of Kato right now nor where is his final resting place.
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama confirmed that the group’s founding chair has died. He refused to reveal Kato’s location except saying the area is far and that communication is difficult.
“I am on my way there to pay my last respect,” Mama said in a phone interview.
Ustadz Wahid Tundok, commander of 118th base command of the MILF, also confirmed reports that Kato, his former superior in the MILF 105th base command, indeed passed away.
Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, said he received reports about Kato’s death but it is being verified by his troops on the ground.
Kato, then head of MILF’s 105th base command, bolted from the MILF and formed his BIFF to pursue the armed struggle for the establishment of an Islamic State in Mindanao.
Dismayed by the botched signing of the GPH-MILF Memorandum of agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008, Kato’s men, then still with the MILF, attacked Christian communities bordering Maguindanao and North Cotabato.
Kato was a foreign trained guerilla having fought side by side with the Afgans against the Soviets in the 70s.