Special thanks to one of my Filipino friends for putting this profile together for us -Jack
Commander Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato
- 67-72 years old. (Cant find a definite DOB. Some sources say 1939-1945)
- Studied Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia (Medina university and Riyadh Islamic university)
- Taught in Arabic schools (madrasahs) in Mindanao area.
- Lectured Shariah law
- Provided muslim workers to Middle East via recruitment services.
- Known to be very strict in following Sharia law and non-compromising extremism when interpreting Islamic laws.
- P10,000,000 bounty (roughly $240,000).
Kumander Kato joined the MILF around 1993. With the help of his friend, Ustadz Shamir Salamat, the brother of late Hashim Salamat (founder of the MILF). Kato was first given the task to be part of the Elite guards surrounding Hashim Salamat (due to his vast Islamic knowledge and education) but Kato persistently requested to be part of the action and was later tasked to command the MILF 105th Brigade – 105th Base Company. Commanding 200 MILF troops, Kato quickly rose to the ranks and gained the loyalty, respect of his men and fellow commanders. Commander Kato has been linked with JI (Abdul Usman Basit – hunted by the US) and ASG and most likely has active connections with other international terrorists espousing the ideas of having a pan -islamic state. Links of Kato with Basit :
“Reports said that the recent bomb attacks in central Mindanao, particularly the explosion in Cotabato City that allegedly targeted Gov. Ismael ‘Toto’ Mangudadatu of Maguindanao province and Sec. Jesse Robredo of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, were the handiwork of the BIFF and JI.
The source said that Usman had been training young recruits on making bombs. Some of the ‘graduates’ had been sent on several missions to blow up targets such as vital government installations in Mindanao and Luzon. Economic hubs in Manila were said to be the priority target of the terror group.
These recruits, the insider added, have planted bombs in undisclosed areas, waiting for orders to detonate them.”
When Hashim Salamat passed away, Kato and other commanders such as Shamir Salamat, Kumander Bravo, and Kumander Pangalian distanced themselves from the MILF’s central command. This rift was due to the MILF current leadership’s change of stance and willingness to junk the plan of having a free Islamic state (which was the primary goal of Hashim Salamat) and compromising with the Philippine govt to form a sub-state instead. On August 2008, Kato and his men harassed 15 towns along Northern Cotabato which derailed further the on going peace talks after the Phil Supreme Court to immediately junked the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains (MOA-AD) due to it being unconstitutional. The incident pissed off the MILF central command and branded Kato and Bravo as renegade field commanders of the MILF but were not officially out of the MILF. The rift between Kato and the MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim grew bigger since even when the MILF opened their doors for Kato and his group.
In March 2010, Kato was officially kicked out of the MILF , was branded bughaat (someone who does not follow orders or who is stubborn) and was replaced by Zacaria Ghuma as commander of 105th base company, known in the MILF as a moderate, religious Muslim. It was in this same time that the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) was established by Kato. Due to Kato’s charisma and growing popularity with in the MILF community and in the moro civilian population, the BIFF was later changed to BIFM (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement). Estimated strengths from 200 to 3000 regulars and 2,000 heavily armed elites. Commanders of the 105th and 106th have combined forces with Kato’s group. Also the following commanders have pledged their loyalty to Kato: Abu Nawas, Shamir Salamat, Karialong, Bravo, Pangalian and Talyo.
There have been assassination attempts on Kato’s life which was headed by the MILF leadership and major operations mounted by the AFP (with the help of MILF units whose sole mission is to hunt down Kato) to destroy Kato’s camps and capture him. In Nov 2011, it was thought that Kato suffered from a mild stroke and died. Months later he surfaced again and claimed that he had suffered a severe form of asthma. August 18 2012, the main BIFF HQ, camp omar or hill 714 at Datu unsay Maguindanao area was over run by AFP troops. Intelligence assets claimed that Kato was seen being carried away from camp omar by his loyalist in August 6 2012, days before the AFP offensive to recapture the towns and BIFF camps.
In august 8th, the BILF simultaneously attacked 8 AFP camps. Armed with a chainsaw, they cut down powerlines servicing towns in maguindanao and took over the main roads in maguindanao. Displacing almost 40,000 families, suspending classes and creating an influx of refuges which the govt has a limited number of evacuation centers. The BIFM has also attacked a shelter killing 1 and injuring individuals, bombed civilian buses and laid IEDs along main roads.
Five Maguindanao mayors were ordered to explain for allegedly abandoning their post when members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) led by Ameril Umra Kato threatened to attack their respective towns. Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo issued show cause orders against Mayors:
- Zandra Sinsuat Ampatuan of Saydona
- Reshal Santiago Ampatuan of Datu Unsay
- Bongbong Midtimbang Ampatuan of Datu Hoffer
- Datu Saudi Sheam Ampatuan of Saudi Ampatuan
- Kanor Ampatuan, acting mayor of Salibo
According to some intel assests, Governor of Maguindanao, Esmael Mangudadatu (the primary target for the maguindanao massacre of 09) and another local politician has been found to be assisting Commander Kato. It was also noted that some neutral MILF camps give safety, shelter and food to the men of Kato when they are evading AFP troops pursuing them. The neurtral camps are protected by an agreement with the Phil govt that no troops can advance with in its safe zone. Any advancement to the safe zone is a clear violation of the treaty and could destabilize the on going talks between the MILF and the Phil govt being mediated by the Malaysians. The BIFM have been known also to blend in and infiltrate the refugee camps to avoid pursuing AFP. Not only the MILF sympathizer but also some of the local govt officials in the area are assisting Kato with his plans of causing chaos in the region.
Clearly commander Kato’s BIFM is gaining momentum and popularity with in the MILF community and becoming a nuisance to the MILF central committee. Kato and his followers are a constant reminder of the primary goal of the MILF established by the founder Hashim Salamat – a free and independent Bangsamoro land. He was able to derail the 2008 peace plan with the help of his other rouge commanders. Will he succeed in destabilizing and derailing the current peace plan and dragging the govt in another civil war? Clearly they are not ready to have an independent or even a sub state because factions with in the MILF are warring with each other and do not share the same visions for peace and independence.