Vietnam Time

1/27/2019 9:36:57 PM

Philippines vows to crush 'terrorists' after church bombs kill 20

The Philippines vowed to destroy those behind twin bombings that killed 20 people during a Sunday (Jan 27) church service in the country's restive south, six days after a referendum on autonomy for the mainly Muslim region returned an overwhelming "yes" vote.

 

The door, pews and glass windows of Mount Carmel Cathedral were blown off, military photos showed. (Photo: AFP)

The attack wounded 81 and was one of the deadliest in recent years in a region long plagued by instability. It came amid hope and excitement about the ratification of a devolution plan that aims to bring development, jobs and peace to one of Asia's poorest and most volatile places.

The first blast occurred inside the Catholic church on war-torn Jolo on Sunday morning as mass was being celebrated, and was followed by a second explosion outside as troops responded, officials said.

The second bomb was left in the utility box of a motorcycle in the parking area outside the church, a military report said.

 

The timing of Sunday's bombs raised questions on whether the attack was meant to derail the peace process. (Photo: AFP)

Most victims were churchgoers along with soldiers. Police lowered the death toll from 27 to 20, after discovering duplications in initial records.

The door, pews and glass windows of Mount Carmel Cathedral were blown off, military photos showed, with bodies strewn across the ground, according to an AFP photographer on the scene.

President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman condemned the incident as an "act of terrorism and murder".

"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," Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

"The enemies of the state have boldly challenged the capability of the government to secure the safety of the citizenry in that region," said Panelo.

"The armed forces of the Philippines will rise to the challenge and crush these godless criminals."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but police suspect the bombings were the work of Abu Sayyaf, a militant group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and is notorious for its bombings and brutality.

"When you talk about terrorism in Sulu, the primary suspect is always the (Abu Sayyaf) but we are not discounting the possibility that there are other perpetrators," regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana told AFP.

"They want to show force and sow chaos," national police chief Oscar Albayalde told DZMM radio, suggesting Abu Sayyaf was the prime suspect.

Jolo is a stronghold of the group, which runs a lucrative piracy and kidnapping operation that successive governments have failed to break up. The group, which operates in the waters and islands of western Mindanao, has beheaded numerous foreign captives when ransom demands were not met.

 

Policemen and soldiers keep watch as body bags (in white) containing the remains of blast victims are seen in a cordoned area outside a church in Jolo, Sulu province. (Photo: AFP/Nickee Butlangan)

'DASTARDLY ACT'

The attack followed Friday's announcement that the region, a mainly Muslim part of the predominantly Catholic Philippines, had ratified the creation of an autonomous area called Bangsamoro, with 85 per cent of voters behind it.

Although Sulu was among only a few areas that rejected autonomy, it will still be part of the new entity when it is fully formed in 2022.

Sunday's bombing comes after a New Year's eve blast in the southern Philippine city of Cotabato killed two people and wounded 35 others.

Cotabato last week voted to be included in the new autonomous region.

Mujiv Hataman, governor of the current autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, said the blasts highlighted the urgency of implementing the peace law.

"Terrorists want to make their presence known. I hope the (law) is implemented well so it could be a solution to stop the spread of terrorism," Hataman told AFP.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called the attack a "dastardly act" and urged the local population to cooperate and "deny terrorism any victory".

National Security Adviser, Hermogenes Esperon, called those responsible "mass murderers" and "extremist criminals".

"We will not allow them to spoil the preference of the people for peace," he added.

The referendum came amid concerns about the presence of extremists in the Philippines and the possibility that foreign radicals will join those of Indonesia and Malaysia in gravitating to Mindanao to capitalize on porous borders, jungles and mountains, and an abundance of arms.

The Philippine military in mid-2017 encountered its biggest and longest battle since World War Two when an alliance of extremists loyal to Islamic State, among them foreigners and children, overran Marawi City and tried to establish a caliphate./. 
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