In a shocking turn of events on a peaceful Sunday morning, a devastating explosion shattered the tranquility of Jolo, the capital of Sulu province in the southern Philippines. Striking around 8:30 a.m. local time, the incident targeted the Mount Carmel Cathedral and an adjacent gymnasium, coinciding with a Sunday mass and a fitness class, turning moments of community and serenity into scenes of chaos.
Authorities quickly confirmed at least 12 casualties, with many more left grappling with injuries. The Philippine National Police (PNP) disclosed that the explosion resulted from a meticulously placed improvised explosive device (IED) within the church premises. As panic and confusion spread, a second explosion ensued from an IED hidden in a motorcycle parked outside the gym, amplifying the devastation and causing additional harm to nearby structures and vehicles.
While no group has claimed responsibility officially, suspicions point to the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a militant Islamist organization with historical ties to ISIS. Renowned for its audacious acts, including kidnappings and bombings, ASG orchestrated a similarly tragic attack on the same cathedral in January 2019, claiming 23 lives and injuring over 100.
Philippines In Shock
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte swiftly condemned the act of terrorism, pledging to pursue and bring the perpetrators to justice. Directives were issued for heightened military and police operations against ASG and other terrorist entities in the region. In an official statement, President Duterte affirmed, “We will not allow these terrorists to sow fear and discord in our communities. We will pursue them relentlessly until they are brought to the bar of justice.”
International leaders, including the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations, expressed condolences and solidarity with the Philippines, reaffirming support in combating terrorism. The tragic incident casts a somber shadow over ongoing peace initiatives between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), highlighting the challenges faced in establishing lasting stability in the region.
Despite a historic peace deal in 2019 creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), radical factions such as ASG persist in rejecting peace efforts, opting for continued armed resistance. BARMM’s interim chief minister, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, condemned the act as an attempt to undermine the peace process, urging unity against the forces threatening the region’s peace and progress.
As investigations unfold and the community grapples with the aftermath, the tragic incident serves as a poignant reminder of the resilience required in the pursuit of lasting peace amid complex geopolitical challenges.