MANILA, Philippines – Two bombs exploded in front of a Roman Catholic cathedral on a Filipino South Island, where Muslims were fighters are active, killing at least 19 people and injuring nearly 50 people during a Sunday Mass.
The first bomb exploded in or near Jolo Cathedral in the provincial capital, followed by a second explosion outside the facility as government security forces responded to the attack, security officials said.
Oscar Albayalde, head of the Philippine National Police, said at least 19 people died and 48 were injured. According to police and military reports, both troops and civilians were affected.
Photos on social media showed that rubble and corpses lay on a busy street in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which was hit by bombs in the past. Troops in armored cars locked the main road that led to the church, while vehicles took the dead and wounded to the hospital. Some victims were evacuated by air to the nearby city of Zamboanga.
"I have instructed our troops to raise their alert levels, secure all venues and public places at once, and take proactive security measures to thwart enemy plans." Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement.
The island of Jolo has long been troubled by the presence of fighters from Abu Sayyaf who have been blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines for years of bombings, kidnappings and abductions as black terrorist lists.
No one has immediately taken responsibility for the attack.
It came almost a week after Muslim minorities in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation had signed a new autonomous region in the southern Philippines, hoping that they could end nearly five decades of separatist insurrection that has killed 150,000 people. Although most Muslim territories have agreed to the autonomy deal, voters in the province of Sulu, where Jolo is located, refused. The province hosts a rival rebel faction that opposes the deal and the Abu Sayyaf group, which is not involved in any peace process.
Western governments have welcomed the Autonomy Pact. They fear that a small number of Islamist-linked Islamists from the Middle East and Southeast Asia could form an alliance with the Philippine insurgents and make the South a breeding ground for extremists.
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