Sulu cathedral bombed; 20 killed, over 80 wounded in Sunday mass
Soldiers guard Mt. Carmel Church in Jolo, Sulu following the bomb attacks during mass yesterday morning.
Photo courtesy of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Command.
Sulu cathedral bombed; 20 killed, over 80 wounded in Sunday mass
Roel Pareño (The Philippine Star) - January 28, 2019 - 12:00am

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines —  The Sunday morning mass was in progress when two explosions ripped through the Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo, Sulu yesterday.

The blasts blew away the entrance to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral, and ripped through the main hall, shredding to pieces the pews and toppling other doors.

 Initial reports said at least 20 people died and 81 were wounded, including 14 soldiers and two policemen.

The dead included 15 civilians, mostly churchgoers, and five soldiers, including a Coast Guard member, said Chief Supt. Graciano Mijares, police director for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The first bomb went off in or near the church, followed by a second blast outside the compound as government forces were responding to the attack, officials said.

Photos showed debris and bodies lying on a busy street outside the cathedral, which has been hit by bombs in the past. Troops in armored carriers sealed off the main road leading to the church while vehicles transported the dead and wounded to hospital. Some casualties were evacuated by air to a military base here.

Fr. Jefferson Nadua, parish priest of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, described the incident as chaotic.

“Please see to it to bring justice to the victims,” Nadua told Church-run Radio Veritas. “It’s still chaotic here. Pray for us.”

“We pray for safety of those who are wounded. We pray and hope that there are no casualties among our parishioners,” the priest said.

Nadua said the mass was being celebrated at around 8:30 a.m. when the bomb went off inside the church compound.

As troops responded to the incident, the second bomb exploded in the church’s parking area, he said.

Joint Task Force Sulu commander Brig. Gen. Divino Pabayo said their initial investigation had revealed one of the bombs was rigged to a motorcycle in the church’s parking area.

Pabayo also revealed security video footage in the area showed how the suspects brought the bomb at the site.

He identified the suspects as members of “Ajang-ajang,” a group of sons of killed Abu Sayyaf extremists.

Pabayo also believed the bombing attack could be in retaliation for the killing of some of its members in one of the encounters in Sulu.

He said the motive could also be to create panic and fear among the people of Sulu to get attention.

“The motive could be to retaliate and get even,” Western Mindanao Command spokesman Lt. Col. Gerry Besana said.

“At the same time, the Ajang-ajang group has no other intention but to sow terror in Sulu,” he said.

Diversionary tactic

Security officials led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces of the Philippines AFP) chief Gen. Benjamin Madrigal vowed to run after those behind the bombing attack.

“I have 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.

Madrigal added the investigation would focus on the signature of the explosive device used to determine who are behind the attack.

“I call on the people for calm and sobriety as government security forces address this recent attack on the peaceful Joloanos,” Madrigal said.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Oscar Albayalde vowed to hold accountable the perpetrators of the “dastardly attack on the civilians who were peacefully attending church services.”

Although no one has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, Albayalde said they are looking into the possible involvement of the Abu Sayyaf and other threat groups in the explosion.

The Abu Sayyaf are still holding at least five hostages – a Dutch national, two Malaysians, an Indonesian and a Filipino – in their jungle bases mostly near Patikul town, not far from Jolo.

Government forces have pressed on sporadic offensives to crush the militants, including those in Jolo. A few thousand Catholics live mostly in the capital of Jolo.

Yesterday’s bombing attack was not the first, officials said.

In March 27, 2006, a bomb explosion rocked the church-organized Sulu Consumers Cooperative Building, killing five people and wounding 15 others. The incident was blamed on the Abu Sayyaf.

On July 7, 2009, an improvised explosive device exploded in front of a shop across the cathedral, killing at least six people and injuring 40 others.

Two grenade attacks occurred in 2010, and another in 2012, but no one was hurt.

The church was also attacked in August 2013 when an unidentified man threw a grenade, leaving at least one injured.

There are also reports that yesterday’s bombing attack may be a diversionary move by extremists after troops recently carried out an offensive that killed a number of Islamic State-linked Maute group of militants in an encampment in the hinterlands of Lanao del Sur.

The area is near Marawi City, the Islamic city that was besieged for five months by hundreds of Maute, including foreign fighters, in 2017. Troops quelled the insurrection, which left more 1,100 mostly militants dead and the heartland of the mosque-studded city in ruins.

The Maute group, which is also in alliance with the Abu Sayyaf, led the siege of Marawi City in 2017.

Lorenzana said this possibility is also being considered by investigators focusing on uncovering the group behind the bombing.

He said military forces are on the trail of Maute leader Owayda Benito Marohambsar or Abu Dar in Lanao del Sur.

“We will consider all possibilities,” Lorenzana said. – With AP, Michael Punongbayan, Emmanuel Tupas, Edith Regalado, Ben Serrano, Edu Punay

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with