Philippines names pro-Islamic State militants in Catholic mass bombing

Agence France-Presse
Philippines names pro-Islamic State militants in Catholic mass bombing
Military personnel stand guard at the entrance of a gymnasium while police investigators look for evidence after a bomb attack at Mindanao State University in Marawi, Lanao del sur province on December 3, 2023. At least three people were killed and seven wounded in a bomb attack on a Catholic mass in the insurgency-plagued southern Philippines on December 3, officials said.
AFP / Merlyn Manos

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine police named two Filipino members of a pro-Islamic State militant group on Wednesday as suspects in the deadly bombing of a Catholic mass in the country's insurgency-plagued south. 

Four people were killed and 50 were wounded in Sunday's attack on worshippers gathered inside a university gym in Marawi, the country's largest Muslim city, which was besieged by militants in 2017. 

The Islamic State group claimed the bombing, which President Ferdinand Marcos blamed on "foreign terrorists".

Police said previously they were chasing four men in connection with the assault, which the military has described as a possible revenge attack for their operations against militant groups in the region.

The two suspects named on Wednesday -- Kadapi Mimbesa and Arsani Membisa -- belonged to the Dawlah Islamiyah-Maute group, police regional director Brigadier General Allan Nobleza told a news conference.

A third man, still unidentified, acted as a lookout for the attackers, Nobleza said.

"We are mobilising all our resources to ensure that the perpetrators are put behind bars so they could answer the crimes that they have committed," Nobleza told reporters.

Maute was one of the pro-IS groups that held Marawi under siege in 2017.

The Philippine military wrested back the ruined city after a five-month battle that claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Witnesses told police that Mimbesa and Membisa wore face masks when they entered the gym before Sunday's service and were seen acting suspiciously, Nobleza said.

The men were already wanted by police for illegal possession of explosives and murder, he said.

Militant attacks on buses, Catholic churches and public markets have been a feature of decades-long unrest in the region.

Manila signed a peace pact with the nation's largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, in 2014, ending their deadly armed rebellion.

But smaller bands of Muslim fighters opposed to the peace deal remain, including militants professing allegiance to the Islamic State group. Communist rebels also operate in the region.

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