Rogue group chief Kato already dead — MILF

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Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) founding chairman Al-Ustaj Amiril Umbra Kato.

(CNN Philippines) – Al-Ustaj Amiril Umbra Kato, the founding chairman of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), is dead.

This was confirmed by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, who said the 78-year-old rogue commander of the outlaw rebel group died at about 2 a.m. Tuesday (April 14).

"Our information was he passed away due to cardiac arrest," Iqbal told reporters.

Also confirming Kato’s death was Mayor Samsodin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao, who quoted Kato’s relatives and close allies as saying that the BIFF founding chairman suffered a cardiac arrest at 2:30 a.m. in a remote village of Guindulungan, Maguindanao.

“His relatives confirmed to me that he succumbed to cardiac arrest,” Dimaukom said.

But in a news briefing on Tuesday afternoon, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it was still checking on reports on Kato’s death.

In a statement, AFP said: "With the reported death of Kato, we are seeing the gradual demise of the BIFF considering that Kato is both a tactical commander and at the same time the spiritual leader of the group."

Kato, one of the country’s most wanted persons with a P10-million bounty on his capture, will be buried within 24 hours from the time he died according to Islamic tradition.

The most wanted person page of the Philippine National Police (PNP) website listed Kato’s offenses which include 15 counts of arson, nine counts of attempted murder, multiple murder, frustrated murder, and 26 counts of robbery.

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.

Watch: BIFF confirms leader Umbra Kato is dead

"I am on my way there to pay my last respect," Mama said in a phone interview with the Philippines News Agency.

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.

Kato 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 Afghans against the Soviets in the 70s.

The Philippines News Agency contributed to this report.