The BIFF-ISIS connection and social media

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Using the Internet through social networking sites, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters claim it is in constant communication and has formed an alliance with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Abu Misry Mama, spokesperson of the BIFF, said they also used mobile phones in their first set of talks for an alliance with ISIS in July 2014.

Mama said BIFF vice chairman for political affairs Sheikh Ismail Abu Bakr and the group’s Islamic Supreme Council chair who was identified only as "Kuti" directly communicated with ISIS.

“There was also a time that they directly communicated with Abu Bkr al-Baghdadi,” Mama said. Al-Baghdadi is the self-proclaimed “caliph” or head of state of ISIS. He has also been claiming that he is a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.

“In the alliance, we have agreed that we are brothers under the same sky. That if one finger is hurt the entire body will feel the pain,” Mama said.

Training in the Middle East?

But this alliance, according to Mama, does not mean they have sent members to join the training and fighting in the Middle East.

“There is no truth to the reports that we have sent fighters to Syria and Iraq. We do not need to train there because our training grounds in Mindanao are enough already,” Mama said.

Earlier, former president Fidel V. Ramos disclosed in a TV interview that around 100 Filipino Muslims infiltrated Iraq to train as militants.

“In fact, there are also no foreigners in our camps to train us because we can train on our own,” Mama said, brushing off allegations by the military that the BIFF is coddling members of the Jemaah Islamiyah. (READ: Senior Abu Sayyaf leader swears oath to ISIS)

Military sources claimed that Malaysian bomber Zulkifli Bin Hir, who is more commonly known as Marwan, is hiding in BIFF territory in Maguindanao.

He was reported earlier to have been killed in an airstrike, but military officers said Marwan was seen again somewhere in Central Mindanao.

On Facebook

Similar to al-Qaeda, ISIS, and JI that use social media to recruit fighters, the BIFF has also stepped up its campaign on the Internet.

Several Facebook accounts claiming to belong to members of the BIFF surfaced, with pictures of masked men and women raising their index fingers, some of them carrying automatic rifles.

One of the accounts that claimed to belong to Abu Maida'n posted photos and videos of BIFF gatherings and even their military operations.

The Maida'n account also posted the video of men garbed in soldiers' uniforms who pummeled and peppered with bullets a man believed to be the uncle-in-law of suspected bomber Abdul Basit Usman.

And most recently, a "new committee" called the Union Overseas-Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement has been creating a buzz among BIFF supporters on the Internet.

Funding

A source in the BIFF said members of this committee are overseas Filipino workers who expressed support for the creation of an Islamic state in Mindanao and volunteered to carry its cause online.

With ISIS now known as one of the richest armed groups in the world, the BIFF denied they are receiving foreign funding for their operations.

“If we will ask them for money they might send us millions but we are not asking for any,” Mama said.

The BIFF said their funding comes from "donations" from “supportive businessmen and politicians.”

“They believe that we are fighting the right war that is why they support us financially,” Mama said.

Aside from the funds from businessmen and politicians, Mama said civilians in the communities are also "donating" money and even food for the rebels. He however refused to call this taxation buta "charity contribution” by the communities to “fund the jihad.”

“For example, if you till the soil and you harvest 10 sacks you give one sack to the mujahideens,” Mama said.

Judicial process

And with the reports of ISIS forces cutting hands and beheading people in Iraq and Syria, Mama said it is possible it would also happen in their area but that they would be strictly guided by Islamic principles.

“You cannot just cut hands and heads because you wanted to. It is being done as part of a judicial process. Your hands will only be cut if you steal and the beheading is only done to those who killed people as a crime,” Mama said.

This “implementation of justice,” Mama said, is part of due process under the Shariah system. “It is just like any ordinary criminal justice system. The only difference is that the penalties are stiffer,” Mama added.

Mama said one of their original leaders and a member of the central committee was expelled for “dishonoring the due process of law.”

In September 2013, two men were found dead near a rice field in Midsayap, North Cotabato. One of the bodies recovered was that of 31-year-old Ricarte Dionio who was also beheaded by members of the BIFF.

The military said the men killed were ordinary farmers who were taken as hostages of the rebels, while the BIFF claimed that both men died in an actual encounter.

Mama said Dionio was a policeman but explained that the beheading was inappropriate and was a violation of BIFF rules.

He said former BIFF vice chairman for political affairs Muhammad Ali Tambako, who ordered the beheading, was found guilty of committing the transgression and was immediately kicked out of the BIFF.

“The man was a legitimate target but the beheading was unnecessary. What was worse was that the man was beheaded even if he was already dead,” Mama said.

He said the order of Tambako was disrespect for a man who bravely fought in a gun battle. “We do not want that to happen again,” Mama said.

But people in the communities, especially those who oppose the BIFF, continue to fear that similar incidents would happen in the future.

Terror organization

The military and the local government vehemently condemned the atrocities and even labeled the BIFF as a terror organization.

The BIFF, led by former 105th Base commander Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato, splintered from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front after serious disagreements on the conduct of the peace negotiations with government.

Given present progress on the peace process, the government and the MILF have repeatedly appealed to the BIFF to give peace a chance and to be included in the new political entity that will be crafted.

An autonomous state under the Philippine government, the BIFF explained, is a big compromise, given the original claim for Bangsamoro independence. (READ: Philippines condemns, vows to help 'thwart' ISIS)

"What we wanted is an independent Islamic state. We do not care if it is as small as a barangay as long as it is ours," Mama said. – Rappler.com