Manhunt underway for bombers, 2 persons of interest
The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack on a Catholic mass in Marawi on Sunday, which killed at least four people and injured 50 others.
The blast hit during a morning service at the Mindanao State University’s gymnasium in Marawi City, which was overrun by gunmen belonging to the IS-led Maute group in 2017.
“I wish to assure my prayers for the victims of the attack that took place in the Philippines, where a bomb exploded during Mass. I am close to the families, to the people of Mindanao, who have already suffered so much.”
The Islamic State group said in a statement on its Telegram channels that “soldiers of the caliphate detonated an explosive device on a large gathering of Christians… in the city of Marawi.”
President Marcos on Sunday blamed “foreign terrorists” for the explosion.
In a command conference at Camp Ranao in Marawi on Monday, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner said the military is not discounting the possibility that IS had a hand in the explosion.
He said the attack could be revenge for the killing of leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Dawlah Islamiyah (DI).
“We all know that the DI has links with international groups, so we are not discounting that… theory of retaliatory actions of the ISIS group,” Brawner said.
“We are looking at all aspects, we are looking at all angles. Remember, when the Marawi siege happened here, it was the Dawla Islamiyah Southeast Asia group that claimed they were in control.”
The military and the police are looking at the bomb signature used to determine which group is responsible for the explosion.
Police earlier said they found fragments of a 60mm mortar from the improvised bomb used in the attack.
Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Alonto Adiong Jr. said on Monday that the explosion during a Sunday morning Mass at Mindanao State University in Marawi City was not a suicide bombing.
Speaking to TeleRadyo Serbisyo, Adiong said all four fatalities in Sunday’s explosion have been identified.
Adiong said 35 out of 47 people injured who were admitted to Amai Pakpak Medical Center after the explosion were discharged Sunday. Some of those discharged were allowed to go home while others were brought to the MSU infirmary.
Some 10 victims are still in hospital, five of them critically injured, police said.
Bangsamoro Police Regional Office chief Police Brig. Gen. Allan Nobleza said they have already identified more than two persons of interest in the bombing.
“We have persons of interest but the investigation is still ongoing. In order not to preempt the investigation we will not divulge the names,” he said.
Police said a massive manhunt is underway to find and capture the bombers.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. allayed fears about safety during the holiday season.
“Our countrymen should not be afraid as it is our responsibility to ensure their safety against these kind of threats,” he said in Filipino.
The Defense chief said President Marcos ordered the appropriate agencies to immediately solve this case and make sure that it will not be repeated.
Teodoro, meanwhile, said the Philippine National Police (PNP) has placed all its regional offices on “red alert” status while units in Metro Manila are on heightened alert.
The military in Mindanao and Metro Manila were also placed on alert.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) also denounced the bombing.
DILG Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said the blast was clearly the handiwork of terrorists who want to sow fear, chaos, and confusion among the populace.
“Violence has no place in the Bagong Pilipinas (New Philippines). We assure our people, especially the families of the victims, that we will apply the full force of the law and employ all legal means to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Abalos said.
The United States and Israel condemned the attack.
The US Department of State said it “condemns in the strongest terms the horrific terrorist attack” at Mindanao State University (MSU).
“We mourn those killed in the attack, and our thoughts are with the injured,” it said in a statement.
“The United States is in close contact with our Philippine partners and stands with the people of the Philippines in rejecting this act of violence,” it added.
Israel’s embassy in Manila also condemned the “heinous act of terrorism.”
“Our hearts go out to the victims and their bereaved families, and we extend our deepest condolences and sympathy during this difficult time. We also pray for the swift recovery of those injured,” it said in a statement.
“Israel is in solidarity with the Philippine government and Filipino people in face of this despicable terrorist attack. Terrorism is a global threat that needs collective unity among nations to safeguard the well-being of all people and communities,” the embassy said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said the latest attack highlights the need to boost the country’s border security.
She said law enforcers must ensure that the culprits will not escape prosecution, and that they will have no chance to ruin more lives.
“Our schools and universities serve as a second home, not just for students but also for the community at large,” she said. “We must do all we can to ensure that places of learning continue to be safe spaces for all — where people learn, express, worship and love freely.”