01/30/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On Sunday, January 27, 2019, two bombs exploded at a Roman Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippines, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 100. In the wake of the attack, world leaders, both secular and religious, have condemned the senseless act of violence, including Philippine Catholic leaders who have urged their community to respond to the evil deed with good.
According to local officials, the first bomb detonated at 8:45 a.m. inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the island of Jolo as parishioners celebrated Sunday Mass. The second explosion took place shortly afterwards on the doorstep of the church as security forces raced to the scene.
Rappler shared videos that were taken before and after the attack near cathedral. In the videos, Joloanos are seen going about their daily business, when suddenly they started flinching, then running away.
Police report that the blasts killed 15 civilians and five soldiers, and wounded another 111 civilians.
The attack on the church came six days after a referendum was held to seek voters’ approval of creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in the primarily Muslim areas of the southern Philippines. While the majority of voters agreed to the proposal, those in Jolo rejected it.
The referendum was the result of a peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Manila hopes the referendum will resolve decades of fighting between Islamist separatists and the Philippine army in the predominantly Catholic country.
While ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bombing via its website, the New York Times reported that the Philippine national security adviser, Hermogenes Esperon, implied that the bombings were likely the work of rebels affiliated with Abu Sayyaf, a separatist militia with a stronghold in Jolo that has been excluded from the current peace process.
The country’s police chief, Oscar Albayalde, suggested that Abu Sayyaf was the prime suspect in an interview with DZMM radio. “They want to show force and sow chaos,” he said.
Security officials have now targeted a possible suspect, a man known under the alias Kamah, who is a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group and the brother of fallen bandit leader Surakah Ingog, who was an alleged bomb maker killed in Sulu last August.
Kamah can be seen in the videos provided by Rappler reaching out his hand with a small item before the second explosion occurred. He may have detonated the two improvised explosive devices using the item in his hand, before he ran away, according to Western Mindanao Command spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana.
In response to the tragedy, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral statement, “The recent bombing of the cathedral of Jolo where scores of people were killed and several more were injured is a further evidence to the cycle of hate that is destroying the moral fabric of our country.”
Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles also told reporters, “Such incident is very sad, very tragic – almost difficult to imagine that man can do that to his fellow brothers and sisters, but yet as believers, as Catholics, we must go back to our faith, look inside our hearts [for] how to respond to this evil deed…with good. That is the strength of our faith in this situation especially it’s a Catholic cathedral that was bombed.”