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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Bomb blast kills 4 during mass

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PNP on full alert status after Marawi
explosion, NCR on heightened alert

Cotabato City—Four persons were confirmed dead in a bomb blast during a Sunday Mass service held inside the Mindanao State University gymnasium in Marawi City, an attack President Marcos blamed on “foreign terrorists.”

BLOODY SUNDAY. Military personnel stand guard at the entrance of a gymnasium while police investigators look for evidence after an explosion at Mindanao State University in Marawi, Lanao del Sur on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023. At least four people were killed in the bomb attack on a Catholic mass in the insurgency-plagued southern Philippines. Middle photo shows Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr.. Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner and Philippine National Police chief Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Peralta holding a joint press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo. AFP

The Philippine National Police put Mindanao on full alert status while Metro Manila went on heightened alert following the attack.

“To reassure the public and deter criminal elements, the NCRPO is on heightened alert with increased police visibility across the region. We are intensifying efforts through the deployment of patrols and checkpoints in strategic locations,” PNP public information officer Col. Jean Fajardo said.

Attending physicians at the Amai Pakpak Medical Center (APMC) said 46 others were being treated for varying degrees of injuries at the hospital’s emergency room minutes after the blast that went up at about 7:14 a.m.

Police rushing to the crime scene said the type and technical descriptions of the explosive had yet to be determined.

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Dr. Pinky Rakiin of the APMC said six were under operation for serious wounds at the hospital’s operating room. Four later died.

Security officials said the bombing may have been a retaliatory attack for a series of military operations against Islamist militant groups in recent days.

Photos posted on the Lanao del Sur provincial government’s Facebook page showed several overturned plastic chairs, shattered glass and debris around a black patch on the floor of the gymnasium.

University student Chris Jurado, 21, said from his hospital bed that the explosion happened during the first Bible reading of the morning mass.

“It was really sudden and everyone ran,” Jurado said.

“When I looked behind me people were lying on the floor. We didn’t know what happened because everything happened so fast.”

Rowena Mae Fernandez, 19, said she did not know what the blast was at first — then others started running.

“My companion and I also ran, even though we fell on the ground at one point. That was the only thing I remembered until I got out of the gym and I fell again,” she said from the hospital.

“My friends were crying because they saw my injury.”

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) called the attack “inhumane” in a statement issued by Interior and Local Governments Minister Naguib Sinarimbo.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the inhumane bombing inside the Mindanao State University-Marawi City Dimaporo Gymnasium while our peace-loving Christian brothers and sisters were attending Sunday Mass,” Sinarimbo said as the number of fatalities rose to four at the APMC operating room.

Mindanao State University issued a statement condemning “the act of violence,” as it suspended classes and deployed more security personnel on the campus.

“We stand in solidarity with our Christian community and all those affected by this tragedy,” the university said.

Marawi City Mayor Majul Gandamra urged members of the Muslim and Christian communities to remain united.

“Our city has long been a beacon of peaceful coexistence and harmony, and we will not allow such acts of violence to overshadow our collective commitment to peace and unity,” Gandamra said in a statement condemning the attack.

Addressing the families of the fatalities and other victims of the attack, Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr. described the bomb attack as a “senseless act of violence and terrorism,” and said justice will be served.

Adiong and Sinarimbo are both alumni of the MSU, and said the site of the attack was often used for the peaceful convergence of students, especially the school’s athletes and sports enthusiasts.

Peace activists, including Adiong himself, have allayed fears that the incident might be a spill-over of the armed conflict at Gaza. Resident Drieza Lininding said unknown to many, Palestinians are not only Arab Muslims but are also Christian Arabs, and both groups of people are residents of Gaza.

Biblical Jerusalem and Bethlehem are both geographically situated in Gaza.

Adiong, who rushed to the scene, condemned the bomb attack.

Jennie Alonto Tamano, provincial information office head, said the governor urged the authorities “to get to the bottom of this (attack) immediately.”

The governor added: “Here in my province, we uphold basic human rights, and that includes the right to religion. Terroristic attacks on educational institutions must also be condemned because these are places that promote the culture of peace and mold our youth as the future shapers of this country.”

Lawyer-journalist Pangnal Datu Ramos said, “We need to assure our Christian brothers that we are with them. In Islam, terrorism, killings and violent extremism are completely a taboo.”

“Our deepest condolence and sympathy to the families of the victims of the MSU bombing incident. Justice will have to be served to them Insha-Allah (God-Willing),” he added.

Bangsamoro Government Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim said he “condemned the atrocious and cowardly acts” and called for a “thorough investigation.”

Militant attacks on buses, Catholic churches and public markets have been a feature of decades-long unrest in the region.

Manila signed a peace pact with the nation’s largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, in 2014, ending their deadly armed rebellion.

But smaller bands of Muslim fighters opposed to the peace deal remain, including militants professing allegiance to the Islamic State group. Communist rebels also operate in the region. With AFP

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