Suspected Islamic extremists launched a grenade attack near a Catholic cathedral and radio station in the southern Philippines ahead of Christmas Day, wounding 14 individuals and traumatizing worshipers.
According to MindaNews, three men riding motorcycles threw grenades at members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who were standing guard at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral and a radio station owned by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Cotabato on the island of Mindanao. At least seven soldiers and several nearby civilians were injured by the explosion.
Parish priest Zaldy Robles said mass-goers huddled in the cathedral upon hearing the explosion and the ensuing gunfight between soldiers and the assailants. They later returned to worship, but a service scheduled for 6:30 p.m. was canceled.
“It is sad that this kind of violence is happening while we are celebrating the holy Christmas season,” Robles told the news outlet. “Let us not let the reign of darkness rule over us.”
He added that it was fortunate the grenade was not thrown directly into the worship service: In 2009, a bomb attack at the same cathedral in Cotabato killed five civilians and wounded dozens of others.
The Dec. 22 attack was immediately followed by two more explosions: One by an IED in the town of Libungan, Cotabato province where six more were injured, and one in Upi, Maguindanao where two people were harmed.
Military spokesperson Major Homer Estolas insisted the military guards — not Christians — were the target. “It was clear that the suspects targeted the soldiers first,” he said. “The civilians were hurt because they were there waiting for their rides home.”
Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi condemned Sunday’s attacks as an act of terrorism. “We can rise above these acts of terrorism. We are resilient and strong enough to fight against these people whose mission is to disrupt our peace. We must all be united in the face of these adversities.”
No groups have yet claimed responsibility for the attacks in the predominantly Christian country, but the spokesperson of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, Major Arvin Encinas, told ABS-CBN News that the military could not dismiss the possibility of radical Islamic terrorist-linked groups being involved in the attacks.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leah MarieAnn Klett