A massive explosion, believed to have been caused by a bomb, occurred in the predominantly Muslim city of Marawi in the southern Philippines on Sunday. The explosion targeted the Mandanao State University gymnasium, killing at least four people and injuring at least 50 others during a Catholic morning mass. But they usually only have minor injuries.
Authorities have so far identified only two victims.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. blamed “foreign terrorists” for the bombing.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the senseless and most heinous acts committed by foreign terrorists,” Marcos said in a statement. “Extremists who use violence against the innocent will always be seen as enemies of our society.”
I condemn in the strongest possible terms the senseless and most heinous acts perpetrated by foreign terrorists upon the Mindanao State University (MSU) and Marawi communities early this Sunday morning. Extremists who wield violence against the innocent will always be regarded as…
— Bongbong Marcos (@bongbongmarcos) December 3, 2023
Taha Mandangan, the security chief of the state campus, also sees it as a terrorist attack. According to him, this is not an “ordinary dispute between two people.” After all, the bomb will kill everyone around.’
Army troops and police immediately cordoned off the area and conducted an initial investigation to find out who might be responsible for the attack. That is still not clear.
According to images shared on Facebook by the Lanao del Sur state government, military officials examined the Mindanao State University gymnasium, which appeared to be intact except for burn marks in the center where the explosion occurred. White plastic chairs were scattered around, Reuters describes.
Police are now investigating the possibility that the attack was carried out by Muslim radicals, who are still present in the region despite years of military and police offensives. Regional police director Brigadier General Allan Nobleza also said investigators were assessing whether the explosion was caused by a homemade bomb or a grenade.
He himself also outlined the possibility that the attack could be related to eleven Islamists killed during one of the military offensives. It took place on Friday, and the army then, with air and artillery support, attacked Islamist holdings near Datu Hoffer in the southern province of Maguindanao. Nobleza said the slain fighters belonged to the Dawlah Islamiyah armed group, which has allied with the Islamic State terrorist organization and is still present in Lanao del Sur province, where Marawi City is located.
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The deadly explosion triggered a security alert outside Marawi City as the Christmas season ushered in a season of travel, shopping sprees and traffic jams across the country. The Philippine Coast Guard said it had ordered all its personnel to step up intelligence-gathering, tighten controls on passenger ferries and deploy bomb-sniffing dogs and maritime patrols after the bomb attack was suspected. That is also why the police and the army have increased the number of units in the area and are trying to ensure greater numbers in the vicinity of the capital Manila, reports the AP agency.
Presidential adviser Carlito Galvez, a former army chief of staff who now oversees government efforts to end Muslim and communist insurgencies, strongly condemned what he called a bombing incident.
“This horrific attack that occurred during Mass … shows the ruthless methods these lawless elements will use to sow fear, anger and hostility among our people,” Galvez said in a statement. “We will not allow this.”
The city of Marawi was already the target of an attack by Islamic militants linked to the Islamic State in 2017, during which more than 1,100 people were killed. At the time, the five-month siege was suppressed by Philippine forces only with the support of airstrikes and observation planes deployed by the United States and Australia.
The southern Philippines is home to a minority of Muslims in a predominantly Roman Catholic state and the scene of a decades-long separatist insurgency. The largest armed rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, signed a peace deal with the government in 2014 that significantly eased decades of fighting. However, a number of smaller armed groups reject this agreement and continue bombing and other attacks.