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Sunday, January 27, 2019

At Least 21 Dead As 2 Bombs Target Roman Catholic Cathedral In Philippines

The blasts blew away the entrance to the cathedral and ripped through the main hall.

Two bombs tore through a Roman Catholic cathedral on a southern Philippine island where Muslim militants are active, killing at least 21 people and wounding more than 70 during a Sunday Mass, officials said.

The first bomb went off in or near the Jolo cathedral in the provincial capital, followed by a second blast outside the compound as government forces were responding to the attack, security officials said. The blasts blew away the entrance to the cathedral and ripped through the main hall, shredding to pieces the pews and toppling other doors.

At Least 21 Dead As 2 Bombs Target Roman Catholic Cathedral In Philippines

Police said at least 21 people died and 71 were wounded. The dead included 14 civilians and seven soldiers, said Chief Superintendent Graciano Mijares, police director for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Photos 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 armored carriers sealed off the main road leading to the church while vehicles transported 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 pro-active security measures to thwart hostile plans,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement.

“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. The law will give them no mercy,” the office of President Rodrigo Duterte said in Manila.

It said that “the enemies of the state boldly challenged the government’s capability to secure the safety of citizens in that region.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines “will rise to the challenge and crush these godless criminals,” it added.

Jolo island has long been troubled by the presence of Abu Sayyaf militants, who are blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization because of years of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. A Catholic bishop, Benjamin de Jesus, was gunned down by suspected militants outside the cathedral in 1997.

No one has immediately claimed responsibility for the latest attack.

It came nearly a week after minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation endorsed 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, where Jolo is located, rejected it. The province is home to a rival rebel faction that opposes the deal as well as smaller militant cells that are not part of any peace process.

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