At least four people were killed and around fifty others injured in a bomb attack on Sunday during a Catholic mass in the southern Philippines, quickly claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.
“Soldiers of the caliphate detonated an explosive device on a large gathering of Christians (...) in the city of Marawi,” the jihadist group said in a statement published on its Telegram channels.
The explosion occurred during a mass in the gymnasium of Mindanao State University in Marawi, the country's largest Muslim city, regional police chief Allan Nobleza said.
Police Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Peralta said four people were killed and a fifth others injured in the explosion caused by a homemade explosive engine.
In a statement, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos strongly condemned these “senseless and particularly heinous acts perpetrated by foreign terrorists.”
For his part, Pope Francis, in his proposals delivered in St. Peter's Square, assured that he was "close to the families, to the inhabitants of Mindanao, who have already suffered so much." The Mindanao State University was also condemned, in a statement, this “act of violence”, declaring itself “in solidarity” with its Christian community and the victims of “this tragedy”.
“My friends were crying”
From his hospital bed, Chris Honculado, a 21-year-old student, told AFP that the explosion occurred during the first reading from the Bible at the 07:00 a.m. mass (23:00 p.m. GMT Saturday). "The explosion was very sudden and everyone started running," he said.
"When I looked behind me, people were lying on the ground. We didn't know what happened, it all happened very quickly."
Also from the hospital, Rowena Mae Fernandez, 19, said she did not immediately understand the nature of the explosion but that people were fleeing the scene. “My partner and I also ran, although we collapsed at one point.
"That's the only thing I remember until I walked out of the gym and fell again," she told AFP. Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra urged community members Muslims and Christians to remain united.
“Our city has long been a symbol of peaceful coexistence and harmony, and we do not allow such acts of violence to overshadow our collective commitment to peace and unity,” Gandamra said.
The attack came after an airstrike by the Philippine army on Friday killed eleven Islamist militants from the Dawlah Islamiya-Philippine organization in Mindanao.
A chief of staff of the Philippine armed forces, General Romeo Brawner, declared that it was perhaps an attack carried out in retaliation for this military operation against the Islamist organizations Dawlah Islamiyah-Philippines, Abu Sayyaf and Maute, in western Mindanao.
“It’s a prospect that we are studying,” Brawner said at a news conference.
“A foreign component”
By May 2017, hundreds of foreign gunmen and local pro-IS Maute and Abu Sayyaf militants had seized Marawi.
The Philippine army recaptured the ruined city after a five-month battle that cost more than a thousand lives. “There are strong indications of a foreign component” in Sunday’s attack, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro told reporters.
Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao del Sur are part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Bangsamoro government Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim said he “condemns these atrocious and cowardly acts,” calling for a “thorough investigation.” Militant attacks on buses, Catholic churches and public markets are characteristic of the unrest that has rocked the region for decades.
In 2014, Manila signed a peace pact with the country's largest rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front, ending their bloody military insurgency.
But there remain small bands of Muslim insurgents opposed to the peace deal, including militants who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The Editorial Board (with AFP)