Philippines cathedral bombing leaves 20 dead, 81 injured

Civilians and soldiers among the casualties after attackers detonate two bombs

Debris inside a Catholic cathedral where two bombs exploded in Jolo city, Sulu, Philippines, January 27th, 2019. Photograph: EPA/WestMinCom

Debris inside a Catholic cathedral where two bombs exploded in Jolo city, Sulu, Philippines, January 27th, 2019. Photograph: EPA/WestMinCom

 

At least 20 people have been killed and 81 injured after two bombs were detonated at a Roman Catholic cathedral on a southern Philippine island.

The first bomb went off inside the cathedral on Jolo island in Sulu province, during Sunday Mass.

A second blast occurred outside the compound as government forces were responding to the attack, security officials said.

Civilians bore the brunt of the attack, which also killed five soldiers. Police lowered the death toll from 27 to 20, after discovering duplications in initial records.

The attack was one of the deadliest in recent years in a region long plagued by instability

Photos on social media showed debris and bodies lying on a busy street outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which has been hit by bombs in the past.

Troops in armoured carriers sealed off the main road leading to the cathedral while vehicles were transporting the dead and wounded to the hospital.

Some casualties were evacuated by air to nearby Zamboanga city.

“I have directed our troops to heighten their alert level, secure all places of worships and public places at once, and initiate proactive security measures to thwart hostile plans,” said defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a statement following the attack.

“The enemies of the state have boldly challenged the capability of the government to secure the safety of the citizenry in that region,” said Salvador Panelo, spokesman of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. “The armed forces of the Philippines will rise to the challenge and crush these godless criminals.”

Claim of responsibility

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings. Police had initially suspected the bombings were the work of Abu Sayyaf, a militant group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and is notorious for its brutality.

Jolo island has long been troubled by the presence of Abu Sayyaf militants, who are blacklisted by the US and the Philippines as a terrorist organisation because of years of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.

The attack came nearly a week after minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation endorsed the creation of a new autonomous region in the southern Philippines in hopes of ending nearly five decades of a separatist rebellion that has left 150,000 people dead.

Although most of the Muslim areas approved the autonomy deal, voters in Sulu province rejected it.

Western governments have welcomed the autonomy pact.

They worry that small numbers of Islamic State-linked militants from the Middle East and southeast Asia could forge an alliance with Filipino insurgents and turn the south into a breeding ground for extremists.– PA/Reuters