Philippines: Two bombs explode outside Roman Catholic cathedral, kills 19
Two bombs exploded outside a Roman Catholic cathedral on a southern Philippine island where Muslim terrorists are active, killing minimum 19 and wounding nearly 50 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, they added.
Cathedral has been attacked in the past as well
Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde said that at least 19 people died and 48 were wounded. Police and military reports said the casualties included both troops and civilians. Photos on social media 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.
Actions: Some casualties evacuated by air, main road sealed off
Troops in armored carriers sealed off the main road leading to the church while vehicles were transporting the dead and wounded to the hospital. Some casualties were evacuated by air to nearby Zamboanga city. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana issued a statement explaining the steps taken.
Jolo troubled by presence of Abu Sayyaf terrorists for long
"I've 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," Lorenzana said. Jolo island has long been troubled by the presence of Abu Sayyaf terrorists, who are blacklisted by United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization because of years of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.
Muslims, a minority, want new autonomous region in southern Philippines
No one has immediately claimed responsibility. The attack came nearly a week after minority Muslims in predominantly Roman Catholic nation endorsed a new autonomous region in the southern Philippines hoping to end nearly five decades of a separatist rebellion that has left 150,000 dead. Although most of the Muslim areas approved the autonomy deal, voters in Sulu province, where Jolo is located, rejected it.
Western governments have welcomed autonomy pact, as endorsed by Muslims
The province is home to a rival rebel faction that's opposed to the deal as well as the Abu Sayyaf group, which isn't part of any peace process. Western governments have welcomed the autonomy pact. They worry that Islamic State-linked terrorists from Middle East and Southeast Asia could forge an alliance with Filipino insurgents and turn the south into a breeding ground of extremists.