Masako Ishii interviewed the top leader of the BIAF, the Chief of Staff, Mr. Sammy Al Mansour

In the Philippines, there used to be approximately four or five ISIS-affiliated groups. In 2017, the top leaders of two of these groups, Mohammad Jaafar Maguid or “Tokboy” of the Ansar Khalifa Philippines (AKP)[1], and Omar and Abdullah Maute of the “Maute Group”, were killed. In August and September, 2017, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the armed wing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) encountered the group of Abu Toraype[2], who had pledged allegiance to ISIS but were once members of the BIAF. How did the BIAF act when they found out that some of their members had become undisciplined and were pledging allegiance to ISIS?

Masako Ishii interviewed the top leader of the BIAF, the Chief of Staff, Mr. Sammy Al Mansour.

March 5, 2018.

By Masako Ishii, Professor, Rikkyo University

Structure of the BIAF

Q
First, briefly, may I know about the organizational structure of BIAF?

Chief of Staff, Sammy Al Mansour

The MILF has two wings; the civilian wing that we consider as our government and the BIAF, which is our military wing. Brother Hadji Murad holds two positions. He is the Chairman in charge of political affairs and Commander in Chief in charge of military affairs. We believe that the unity of command is very important and that is why Brother Hadji Murad holds these two positions. The decision making body of the MILF is the Central Committee. As a Chief of Staff of BIAF, I am a member of the Central Committee.

The General Staff of BIAF has several different departments. If you convene all the departments, it is the collegial body. The chairman of that collegial body is the Chief of Staff, and that is me.

One of the components of the BIAF is the BIWAB. The BIWAB stands for the Bangsamoro Islamic Women Auxiliary Brigade and is composed of women. They do not engage on the war front, but they provide medical care and food, etc. Aside from that, if there are orphans caused by war, then they are the ones who take care of them.

The flow of command emanates from the Chief of Staff and goes down to the Front Commanders, Base Commanders, and Brigade Commanders of our echelon.

Q
I see. May I know how many Front Commands and Base Commands you have?

Chief of Staff, Sammy Al Mansour
We have 7 Front Commands and 30 Base Commands.

The minimum requirement to organize one Base Command is 45,000 officers and men, except when there is a resolution of the Central Committee to create a Base Command composed of less than 45,000 officers and men.

Q
Who is in charge of the MILF camp?

Chief of Staff, Sammy Al Mansour
As far as the camp is concerned, the Base Commander of the area is in charge, but all of his activities must be coordinated by the provincial committee under the political wing of the MILF. This does not mean that the Chairman of the provincial committee gives orders to our Base Commander. In the same manner, our Base Commander cannot also order the Chairman of the provincial committee because they have separate functions.

“Tokboy” of the AKP (Ansar Khalifa Philippines)

Q
I would like to ask you a question regarding the AKP, one of the groups that pledged allegiance to ISIS. In January 2017, Tokboy, the leader of the AKP, was killed by the military operation in Sultan Kudarat. I heard that he was once a Brigade Commander of the MILF. Who assigned him to the position of Brigade Commander?

Chief of Staff, Sammy Al Mansour
No. Our system is like this. If, for example, someone recruits a battalion, then he applies for that battalion to be a part of the BIAF.

We then have a procedure to accept this person as a Brigade Commander of BIAF. First, we have to validate whether the Brigade has an appropriate number of men. Second, they should abide by our Code of Conduct, which is similar to Protocol I, Protocol II, and Protocol III of the Geneva Convention and International Humanitarian Law. They have to swear that they will follow it. Third, even after they are already integrated into the BIAF, they have to go through a probation period of six months and be observed by the leadership to see if they are toeing the line of the BIAF. If not, then we still have room to dissolve the Brigade.

We have a long process of accepting Brigades because accepting people is very hard. Sometimes these people only enter the BIAF just to penetrate us, and we do not want this to happen especially as we are still at war.

Regarding Tokboy, he organized his own Brigade and applied to be integrated into the BIAF, and we approved it.

Then, he developed a problem with our commanders, and because of a personal grudge against the commanders, he took the firearms and did not return. So, some of the commanders filed a case against him with the Board of Department of Disciplinary, whose function is to discipline everyone within BIAF.

Then, every time he was summoned by our Board of Department of Disciplinary, he didn’t appear, and he became an extremist. However, I don’t think an individual’s thinking can be overturned overnight. So, I don’t believe that he was really indoctrinated by ISIS ideology. He only became like that because of the rift between himself and the commanders.

In order to remove Tokboy from the BIAF, we had to go through a process. If the majority of the heads of the departments voted to remove him from the rank and file, then that is the time that the Chief of Staff acts to remove him. I myself cannot arbitrarily remove him without this process, and Tokboy went through this due process.

The Group of Abu Toraype

Q
The second question is about the fighting between the BIAF and the group of Abu Toraype that pledged allegiance to ISIS. After the Marawi incident started on May 23, 2017, Sheikh Abuhuraira Abdulrahman Udasan, Mufti of Dar Al-Iftar Bangsamoro Dar, issued a fatwa[3] for the need to fight violent extremism and the promotion of division among Muslims, as compliance with the injunction of the Quran and the Prophetic Tradition (Al-Hadith) on June 25, 2017[4].

Chief of Staff, Sammy Al Mansour
When Commander Kato, the leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) was alive, the BIFF was one. However, when he died, they split, and it became three groups. One of the splinter groups is Ismael Abdul Malik’s, alias Abu Toraype, who claims to be a part of ISIS. The other two, Imam Minimbang, alias Karialan and Ismael Abubakar, alias Bungos, rejected this group. They are no longer communicating with each other because Toraype pledged allegiance to ISIS.

We monitored some members of ISIS who were not participating in the fighting in Marawi and went to Toraype. They were planning to disturb Cotabato City to divert the attention of the military. We monitored that, and we established that it was true. So, that is why we had no recourse except to fight with the group and to eliminate the group of Toraype, but as for Karialan and Bongos, we had no encounter with them.

Q
And what happened?

Chief of Staff, Sammy Al Mansour
After we fought them in the area of SPMS box[5] in Ligawasan, they escaped to Carmen[6]. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) managed to track them there. We have an agreement with the AFP through the term of references Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG)[7], and we are obliged to inform the military of the location of this kind of group and so we did that.

Q
In this regard, you directly coordinated with AFP or through the Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH)[8]?

Chief of Staff, Sammy Al Mansour
Yes, through AHJAG and CCCH.

Q
Thank you very much for the discussion.

 
 
 
 

[1]Carmela Fonbuena. Top Leader of Pro-ISIS PH Terror Group Killed. Rappler, January 5, 2017. https://www.rappler.com/nation/157408-top-leader-pro-isis-akp-tokboy-dead (accessed on May 8, 2018).

[2]It is also spelled as “Toraife”.

[3]Authoritative legal opinion given by a mufti (legal scholar) in response to a question posed by an individual or a court of law. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e646 (Accessed on May 9, 2018).

[4]Zea Io Ming C. Caspitrano, MILF Supports Fatwa vs Violent Extremism in Mindanao. Davao Today, July 5, 2017. http://davaotoday.com/main/politics/milf-supports-fatwa-vs-violent-extremism-in-mindanao/ (Accessed on April 8, 2018).

[5]The SPMS box is a term used by the military on the area where the BIFF operates. These are the adjoining towns of Sharif Aguak, Pagatin (Datu Saudi), Mamasapano and Datu Salibo in Maguindanao Province.

[6]Cf. Nash B. Maulana and Florante S. Solmerin. MILF Battles IS-Linked BIFF. Manila Standard, August 4, 2017. http://manilastandard.net/news/top-stories/243590/milf-battles-is-linked-biff.html (Accessed on May 9, 2018); Francis Wakefield and Agence France-Presse. Gov’t Troops Join Forces with MILF in Fighting IS-Inspired BIFF. Manila Bulletin, September 7, 2017. https://news.mb.com.ph/2017/09/07/govt-troops-join-forces-with-milf-in-fighting-is-inspired-biff/ (Accessed on May 9, 2018).

[7]AHJAG was created by the Joint Communique signed between the Philippine Government and the MILF on May 6, 2002, and formally established in 2005. It’s mandate is to coordinate, monitor and disseminate information between and among the AFP and PNP for the Government, and the BIAF for the MILF, to isolate and ban criminal elements within the “MILF areas/communities.” It operates in tandem with the CCCH. 

[8]The Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) was created by the Implementing Administrative Guidelines of the GRP-MILF Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities signed by the Philippine Government and the MILF on September 12, 1997. Both parties signed the Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities on July 18, 1997. https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/PH_970912_Implementing%20Administrative%20Guidelines%20of%20the%20GRP-MILF%20Agreement.pdf (Accessed on May 9, 2018).