Philippine church blast: Twin bomb attack kills at least 18

Philippine church blast: Twin bomb attack kills at least 18
Jolo: The region in voters backed expanded Muslim self-rule backed after days, the military said, the military said, the military said, the region in the bomb blasts that hit the country. A powerful first blast shattered pews, broken windows and left bodies strewn inside the cathedral in the Catholic-majority nation's restive south as mass was celebrated. Just moments later a second explosion outside killed the soldiers who were rushing to help the wounded in the smoking and heavily damaged church on Jolo, which is the heaviest Muslim

It is one of the deadliest bomb attacks to strike the insurgency-plagued southern Philippines in years, and shows the peace of recent steps despite the threat of the insurgency in the region is still a threat.

The bloodshed came less than a week after voters' decisive approval of giving Muslims in the South and more control over their own affairs, which sparked hopes of quelling long-time separatist violence. "Just because the (referendum) has passed that does not mean that things are going to get better overnight," said Gregory Wyatt, director for business intelligence at PSA Philippines Consultancy. "There are still militant groups that will continue to be active and pose a security threat," he told AFP.

Bishop Angelito Lampon, who previously served in Jolo, said Sunday's attack may be the worst, but was definitely not the first on the church. "In my 20 years there from 1998 to last week, there were seven hand grenades lobbed in our cathedral," he told AFP. "Fortunately there was just a little damage and no casualties." Manila swiftly vowed to hunt down the attackers, but no group has claimed the bombing. "We will pursue to the ends of the earth the ruthless perpetrators behind this dastardly crime," Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement. "The law will give them no mercy."

Regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Besana said, "Five soldiers, a member of the coast guard, and 12 civilians were among the dead, while 83 other people were wounded." The regional police chief Graciano Mijares put the toll slightly higher at 20 dead, lower than an figure of 27 he gave initially. The second bomb was left in the utility box of a motorcycle in the parking area outside the church, a military report said.

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 other perpetrators were also there," Besana told AFP.

The remote island of Jolo is a base of 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 attack. 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 often been foreigners targeting the banditry and kidnappings-for-remuneration from millions of dollars.

It is in the network based in the conflict-torn region of Mindanao, some of whose members have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. Abu Sayyaf is not part of the decades-long peace process with the nation's largest separatist group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, that culminated on January 21 with the resounding approval of a new Muslim led-region in the south.

Rebels and the government in Manila hope the new so-called Bangsamoro area will finally draw the investment required from the brutal poverty that makes it a hotspot for radical recruitment. Despite Sulu province - which includes Jolo - voting against the new region, the area will still be part of the Bangsamoro

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