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Bombing of Jolo cathedral roundly condemned

MANILA (UCAN): Philippine Church leaders condemned the bombing of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the town of Jolo, Sulu province, in the southern Philippines on January 27, which killed at least 20 people and injured about 100 others 
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombing, which occurred during Mass, and issued a statement claiming that two suicide bombers detonated explosive belts inside the church and near its entrance.
The first blast left bodies strewn on the floor amid destroyed pews while a second explosion near the entrance shortly after killed at least five soldiers trying to help the wounded.
The attack, one of the deadliest in recent years in Mindanao region, occurred less than a week after the referendum on the Bangsamoro Organic Law, expanding and strengthening an existing Muslim autonomous region in the area.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines condemned the attack, calling it an “act of terrorism.” 
The bishops called on Christians “to join hands with all peace-loving Muslim and indigenous communities in combating violent extremism.”
Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, the conference president, said, “We condole with the families of the soldiers and civilians killed by the explosions.” 
Pope Francis also expressed his sorrow over the attack from Panama where he was attending the World Youth Day celebration.
“I raise my prayers for the dead and wounded,” the pope said.
“May the Lord, prince of peace, convert the hearts of the violent and give the inhabitants of that region a peaceful coexistence,” he added.
Father Romeo Saniel, apostolic administrator of Jolo, said those who perished “died for their Christian faith. They bravely stayed in Jolo in spite of the threats and insecurities.” 
He added, “No words can describe the sorrow and pain that we feel these days.” 
In a joint statement, Orlando Cardinal Quevedo and Archbishop Angelito Lampon of Cotabato, described the bombing as “the most heinous desecration of a sacred place.”
Cardinal Quevedo once served as parish priest of Jolo while Archbishop Lampon was, until recently, the head of the Vicariate of Jolo.
“As former religious leaders of Jolo we totally condemn the criminal bombing of Jolo Cathedral,” the statement read.
The attack “on a sacred day and at a sacred moment of worship” was “the action of evil people with utter disregard for the sacredness of human life and of human dignity,” they said.
They appealed to the security forces to swiftly bring perpetrators to justice.
The predominantly Muslim province of Sulu has long been a hotbed of groups claiming allegiance to with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda terrorist networks.
Authorities said attack was in retaliation for the death of a leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group last year.
Military spokesperson, Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, said investigators had recovered CCTV footage of the bombers just before the attack.
According to, Mujiv Hataman, the governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, only Abu Sayyaf had the means to carry out the attack.
“It was most likely their handiwork,” he said.
Hataman said he did not see a link between the attack and the recent polls.
“Abu Sayyaf or the (Islamic State) have not stated their position on the (Bangsamoro Organic Law) whether they are for or against it,” the governor said.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which entered into a peace deal with the government in 2014, said it would conduct its own investigation.
Hadji Murad Ibrahim, the group’s chairperson, said the attack was “definitely not connected to the plebiscite.”
He said the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law “is for peace and it will protect not only the rights of (Muslims) but also non-Bangsamoro people like Christians.”
He said, “We are not dividing people. In fact we are uniting Muslim and Christian people.”
The Philippine government vowed to hunt down the perpetrators.
“We will pursue to the ends of the earth the ruthless perpetrators behind this dastardly crime,” Salvador Panelo, spokesperson for the president, Rodrigo Duterte, said.
“The law will give them no mercy,” he said.

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