Deadly Bombing at Catholic Mass Raises Terrorism Fears

A devastating explosion, suspected to be a bomb, disrupted a Catholic Mass on Sunday, resulting in at least four fatalities and injuring numerous others in Marawi City, a predominantly Muslim city in the southern Philippines, according to local officials. The blast occurred during a morning Mass held in a gymnasium at the state-run Mindanao State University, causing widespread panic among the attendees, which included students and teachers. Taha Mandangan, the security chief of the state-run campus, reported that the victims were left bloodied and scattered on the ground.

Mandangan also revealed that at least two of the injured were in critical condition. He described the incident as an act of terrorism, emphasizing that the bomb was not a result of a simple feud but a weapon intended to cause mass casualties. Maj. Gen. Gabriel Viray III, the regional military commander, confirmed that the explosion claimed the lives of at least four people, including three women. Additionally, around 50 individuals were transported to two local hospitals for treatment, with most injuries being minor.

The identities of only two of the deceased have been confirmed so far. In response to the attack, army troops and police swiftly secured the area and initiated an investigation. They are currently reviewing security camera footage to identify any potential suspects. Security checkpoints have also been established throughout the city.

The deadly explosion has raised security concerns beyond Marawi City, especially as the Christmas season, a time of increased travel and shopping, begins. The Philippine coast guard has responded by intensifying intelligence efforts, implementing stricter inspections of passenger ferries, and deploying bomb-sniffing dogs and sea marshals.

Coast guard chief Admiral Ronnie Gavan emphasized the importance of maintaining public service in the face of such a barbaric act. Presidential adviser Carlito Galvez, who oversees government efforts to end Muslim and communist insurgencies, strongly condemned the bombing. He described the attack as ruthless and vowed not to let such acts of terror instill fear, anger, and animosity among the people.

While there is no clear indication of who is responsible for the explosion, police are investigating the potential involvement of Muslim militants, who continue to have a presence in the region despite ongoing military and police operations. Brig. Gen. Allan Nobleza, the regional police director, stated that investigators are determining whether the explosion was caused by a homemade bomb or a grenade, and if it is linked to the recent killing of 11 suspected Islamic militants in a military offensive in southern Maguindanao province.

Marawi City, located in Lanao del Sur province, has a history of attacks from Islamic militants aligned with the Islamic State group. In 2017, the city was under siege for five months, resulting in over 1,100 deaths, primarily militants. The siege was eventually suppressed by Filipino forces with the aid of the United States and Australia.

The southern Philippines, home to minority Muslims in a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, has been the site of a long-standing separatist rebellion. The largest armed insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, signed a peace deal with the government in 2014, significantly reducing the conflict. However, several smaller armed groups have rejected the peace agreement and continue to carry out bombings and other attacks.