MANILA, Philippines – A hard-line Muslim rebel group said Tuesday it expelled a top leader and about 30 of his followers for beheading a farmer in the southern Philippines and said that it does not practice such brutality.
Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement spokesman Abu Misry said the expulsion of vice chairman Mohammad Ali Tambako proves the group is not a terrorist band.
Regional military spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso, however, said the rebel group expelled Tambako after facing widespread condemnation for the beheading in September.
The group has been staging bombings, kidnappings, extortion and other acts of banditry and could not gain acceptability despite Tambako's expulsion, he said.
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement is one of at least four armed groups outside of a new peace deal between the government and the main Muslim rebel group in the south, the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Both sides are expected to sign an agreement on a Muslim autonomy deal in the near future.
Misry's group of about 300-400 armed fighters broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front three years ago and vowed to continue fighting for a separate Islamic state in the south of the largely Roman Catholic country.
Tambako and about 30 of his armed followers were expelled after violating the breakaway rebel group's policies and for staging the beheading, according to Misry.
The breakaway Bangsamoro group does not practice such brutal acts like the violent Abu Sayyaf group, Misry said.
"We're aspiring for a Islamic way of life and such violent acts are un-Islamic," he said.
The smaller Abu Sayyaf, which has had past links with al-Qaida militants, is notorious for deadly bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings. It is based on southern Jolo and outlying islands and has been weakened by years of U.S.-backed local offensives.
Washington lists the Abu Sayyaf, which has more than 300 armed fighters, as a terrorist organization.