This handout photo released by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Public Information Office (PIO) Western Mindanao Command (WESTMINCON) taken on January 27, 2019, shows debris inside a Catholic Church where two bombs exploded in Jolo, Sulu province on the southern island of Mindanao. At least 17 people were killed as two bombs hit a church on a southern Philippine island that is a stronghold of Islamist militants, the military said, just days after a regional vote for a new Muslim autonomous region. 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 in the parking lot as troops responded, regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana told AFP.
This handout photo released by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Public Information Office (PIO) Western Mindanao Command (WESTMINCON) taken on January 27, 2019, shows debris inside a Catholic Church where two bombs exploded in Jolo, Sulu province on the southern island of Mindanao. At least 17 people were killed as two bombs hit a church on a southern Philippine island that is a stronghold of Islamist militants, the military said, just days after a regional vote for a new Muslim autonomous region. 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 in the parking lot as troops responded, regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana told AFP.
HANDOUT / AFP
Death toll in Jolo cathedral twin bombing rises to 27
(philstar.com) - January 27, 2019 - 11:05am

MANILA, Philippines (Update 6, 10:02 a.m., Jan. 28) — At least 27 people were killed when two bombs hit a cathedral in Jolo, Sulu, the military said Sunday, days after voters backed the creation of a new Muslim autonomous region.

The first explosion occurred inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at around 8:15 a.m. when mass was about to begin.

It was followed by a second explosion at the cathedral's parking area as troops from the 35th Infantry Battalion responded. The Western Mindanao Command said the improvised explosive device was placed inside the utility box of a motorcycle.

The Westmincom said the initial report Sunday morning showed that 17 died due to the explosion while 57 were wounded. As of 12:40 p.m., however, the death toll rose to 27 while 77 people were recorded injured, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police chief Graciano Mijares said.

ARMM military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana, however, reported a higher number of 83 people wounded.

Most victims were churchgoers along with five soldiers and a member of the Coast Guard.

The door, pews and glass windows of the cathedral were blown off, military photos showed, with bodies strewn across the ground, according to an Agence France-Presse photographer on the scene. 

The Army said it airlifted some of the wounded to the nearby city of Zamboanga for medical treatment. 

'Act of terrorism and murder'

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," presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement. 

Arevalo assured locals that the Armed Forces is ensuring that medical attention is given to all injured.

"We condemn this dastardly attack on the civilians who were peacefully attending church services at the Jolo Cathedral," Arevalo said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, meanwhile, announced that the Armed Forces heightened its alert level.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines has immediately secured the explosion area and transported the casualties to the nearest medical facilities, including the air evacuation of some victims to Zamboanga City for further medication and evaluation,” Lorenzana said.

“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 added.

Culprit still unknown

The explosions triggered panic among the parishioners and civilians in the vicinity who scampered for safety. 

Authorities said the notorious Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group could be behind the blasts. 

"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," Besana told AFP. 

Peace spoilers?

Jolo is a base of the Abu Sayyaf, which is blamed for deadly bombings, including an attack on a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that claimed 116 lives in the country's deadliest terror assault.

The Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, and has earned millions of dollars from banditry and kidnappings-for-ransom, often targetting foreigners.

It is among armed groups based in the strife-torn region of Mindanao, some of whose members have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. 

Jolo also lies in the proposed Bangsamoro Muslim-majority autonomous region, which local voters overwhelmingly approved last week.

Voters decisively approved a more powerful autonomous region in the Philippines' south, which is hoped will bring peace and development after decades of fighting that have killed thousands and mired the area in poverty.

Sulu province — which includes Jolo — voted against the creation of the new region, with its governor questioning the law establishing the area before the Supreme Court. 

Despite Sulu's vote, the legislation provides that the province will still be included in the new political entity as voters from across the current autonomous region voted in favor of it on the whole.

Timing questioned

Sunday's bombing comes after a New Year's Eve blast in Cotabato killed two people and wounded 35 others. 

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

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

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.

— with reports from Roel Pareño, John Unson and AFP

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story characterized Sulu as "a stronghold of Islamist militants", a phrase that is unfair to the people of the province and suggests blame even as the official investigation into the bombings is ongoing.)

JOLO CATHEDRAL TWIN BLASTS
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 4, 2019 - 9:52am

Two explosions hit a cathedral in Jolo, Sulu as mass was about to start at around 8:15 a.m. on Sunday, January 27.

The first bomb exploded inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Western Mindanao Command says. A few seconds later, another blast happened in the cathedral's parking area, where an improvised explosive device was placed inside the utility box of a motorcycle.

Westmincom says in its initial report that 17 were killed, including five responding soldiers, while 57 were wounded.

February 4, 2019 - 9:52am

Five suspects in the Jolo cathedral bombings, including Kammah "Kamah" Pae, have surrendered to authorities, the Philippine National Police announces.

Director General Oscar Albayalde, PNP chief, says on DZMM TeleRadyo that the suspects were forced to surrender because of the massive operations to catch them.

He says Kamah initially surrendered to the Philippine Army, and was turned over to the PNP. The others soon followed suit and surrendered to the Special Investigation Task Group formed to probe the bombings, which killed 22 people and injured dozens more.

January 30, 2019 - 6:21pm

Four persons of interest in the Jolo cathedral bombing have surrendered to authorities today to clear their names, Westmincom says.

Two personalities caught on a CCTV camera footage who were believed to be the suspects surrendered to police to clear their identity. Alshaber Arbi, 18, a Grade 11 student of Kalingalan Caluang National High School, and Gerry Isnajil, a teacher of the same school, submitted themselves to police at 10 a.m. Wednesday, January 30.

Meanwhile, Alsimar Mohammad Albi, 24, and a minor companion went to the Sulu police provincial office at 3 p.m. Wednesday. The two said they went to a pharmacy to buy medicine for Alsimar’s mother who is confined at IPHO-Sulu. It was after they bought the medicine when the blast occurred.

"The two said that they are not familiar with the identities of the suspects and their purpose of coming out is to clear their names fearing that authorities will hunt them down," Westmincom says.

January 29, 2019 - 10:33pm

The Westmincom releases the latest death toll on the Jolo cathedral blast.

As of 6:25 p.m. on Tuesday, January 29, it says they recorded 21 deaths (14 civilians, six soldiers and one Coast Guard personnel) and 100 wounded (84 civilians, 14 soldiers and two Coast Guard personnel).

The following are the names of the killed victims of the Sulu blast:

Armed Forces of the Philippines

  1. Sergeant Mark Des P. Simbre (Inf) PA- from San Isidro, Isabela
  2. Corporal John B. Mangawit, Jr. (Inf) PA- from Kalinga
  3. Corporal Minard Jann P. Ocier (Inf) PA- from Barangay Managok, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon
  4. Private First Class Alizon L. Ayoman (Inf) PA- from Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte
  5. Private Hernan U. Bulaybulay (Inf) PA- from Pagadian City
  6. Private Leomar P. Degumbis(Inf) PA- from Iligan City

Philippine Coast Guard

  1. SN2 Jaypee M. Galicha PCG

Civilians

  1. Mr. Leo Herbolario
  2. Ms. Bibing Perpetua
  3. Mr. Reynaldo Pescadera, Sr.
  4. Mr. Ridzmar Mukadil
  5. Mr. Romolo B. Reyes
  6. Ms. Albacora Perpetua
  7. Ms. Niseria Dela Cruz
  8. Ms. Cecilia Sanchez
  9. Ms. Daisy P. Delos Reyes
  10. Ms. Dolores S. Tan
  11. Ms. Fe Non
  12. Ms. Juliet Jaime
  13. Ms. Leah Angelica Reyes
  14. Ms. Chenly Rubio
January 29, 2019 - 11:44am

France says it "utterly condemns" the bombings at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu on Sunday.  

"France extends its condolences to the victims' families, as well as to the Filipino people. It stands alongside the Philippines in the fight against terrorism," the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs says in a statement posted on its social media accounts.

January 28, 2019 - 12:41pm

In response to the Jolo bombing, AFP Central Command—the military area command for the Visayas— is undertaking measures to prevent any form of terror attacks in the region, The Freeman reports from Cebu.

Meanwhile, Cebu City Police Office Director Royina Garma directed police to secure churches that usually draw larger crowds. 

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