Twenty people are dead as a result of a terrorist attack targeting a Roman Catholic church in the Philippines. Dozens more are injured. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the two suicide bombers who entered the church premises on Sunday morning.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines will rise to the challenge and crush these godless criminals. We will pursue to the ends of the Earth the ruthless perpetrators behind this dastardly crime until every killer is brought to justice and put behind bars,” a statement from President Duterte’s spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, promised.
At 8:30 a.m. local time, the first bomb detonated inside the church as congregants were celebrating Mass. As troops rushed in to respond, a second bomb detonated in the church’s parking area, killing five soldiers along with the 15 civilian church-goers. According to Chief Superintendent Graciano Mijares of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police, an additional 81 people were injured. The bombings are believed to be the result of 4kg of explosives.
Attack Likely Carried Out by Abu Sayyaf
The attack was carried out at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu which is located in the southern region of the Philippines known as Mindanao. This area, which is under martial law until the end of 2019, has been a source of contention between Islamist militants and the Filipino government. The gang Abu Sayyaf, which claims allegiance to ISIL, is known to operate out of this region, coordinating attacks and kidnapping Christians and foreigners. Officials are not certain yet who carried out the attack, despite ISIL’s claim of responsibility.
Officials have identified one suspect so far, Alias Kamah, who is a member of Abu Sayyaf. According to ABS-CBN news, a security camera placed Kamah at the church shortly before the bombs detonated. Officials say Kamah is still at large.
LOOK: Suspects in the Jolo bombing as captured by security cameras.
— ABS-CBN News (@ABSCBNNews) January 28, 2019
The attack comes just a week after voters approved the Bangasamoro Organic Law, which essentially allows the majority-Muslim areas of Mindanao greater autonomy from the rest of the Philippines, whose majority population is Catholic.
“The enemies of the state have boldly challenged the capability of the government to secure the safety of the citizenry in that region,” said Panelo.
Despite his harsh criticism of the Catholic church lately, Duterte visited the site of the bombing on Monday and attended a mass wake for the victims.
In addition to the Filipino government, other world leaders have condemned the attacks. Pope Francis expressed “the firmest reproach for this episode of violence” and Yousef Al-Othaimeen, head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, expressed his “deep indignation” over the bombings.
In a statement, the Catholic Archbishop of Davao City (also located in the Mindanao region) urged all “Christian brethren to join hands with all peace-loving Muslims and Indigenous People communities in the advocacy against violent extremism.”