A new group of terrorists has emerged in Mindanao, the military said on Wednesday.
According to an official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), at least 70 armed members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have broken away from the bandit group and formed a new faction that joined the Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
Called the Justice Islamic Movement (JIM), the group reportedly cut ties with the BIFF in November 2013, but the military confirmed that only recently.
Col. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesperson, said that based on reports, JIM is being led by Mohammad Tambako, who was earlier tagged by the military as the coddler of Filipino bomb-maker Abdul Basit Usman.
Usman was one of the targets of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (SAF) operation in Mamasapano, Maguinadanao, that led to the killing of 44 police commandos by the BIFF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on January 25.
The AFP said four other suspected foreign terrorists are in the company of Tambako and his men.
“Reports we have received revealed that the BIFF does not see eye to eye with the group of Tambako,” Padilla said in a news conference on Wednesday.
Government forces are conducting an all-out offensive against the BIFF in Maguindanao and North Cotabato in Mindanao in southern Philippines.
When asked where the JIM is holed up, Padilla said the group is operating in the same areas where the BIFF operates.
He played down insinuations that JIM was just a creation of the military to muddle the issue on the Mamasapano massacre.
“Ganyan naman sa Mindanao, kapag may nagkagalit naghihiwalay [That’s how they are in Mindanao, if they have misunderstandings, they part ways],” Padilla said.
According to him, Tambako was a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front who joined the MILF, later the BIFF, and now the JIM.
Col. Melquiades Feliciano, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, earlier said Usman is being coddled by notorious bandits from two different BIFF groups that included Tambako, a BIFF leader who had carried out armed atrocities against civilians in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.
A BIFF commander identified as Kagi Karialan leads another group with at least 100-armed members, the military said.
Karialan was said to have led the attack on MILF and civilian communities in Kabasalan and Bulol, both in Pikit, North Cotabato, on two separate occasions, displacing at least 25,000 people.
On Sunday, Tambako’s camp was seized by government troops. Recovered from the camp were assorted war materials including bomb-making equipment.
Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilian, chief of the 6th Infantry Division, confirmed that there is an existing Islamic radicalization targeting people in Maguindanao.
He said Usman is leading the group that has been spreading radicalism.
Pangilinan said the military had encountered BIFF’s non-fighters including children as young as 10 years old in previous operations against the group.