Bomb blast kills four at Philippine church service in suspected ISIS attack

The blast occurred in a city that was the scene of heavy fighting in 2017

Police conduct an investigation at the site of an explosion at a church in Marawi city, Lanao Del Sur, Philippines. EPA
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Four people have been killed in a bomb attack at a church in Marwari in the southern Philippines, with up to 50 injured in a suspected ISIS attack.

Witnesses said the blast occurred during the first prayers of the service, with people rushing to exit the building following the blast.

Marwari was the scene of a fierce battle between security forces and the Philippines branch of ISIS, in 2017. Several hundred fighters from the group had taken over the city, which has a population of around 200,000, before being driven out by the army.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. blamed “foreign terrorists”, for the explosion, which targeted the Catholic church during mass.

The blast happened during a morning service at Mindanao State University's gymnasium. Police Lieutenant General Emmanuel said that the bombing may have been a retaliatory attack for a series of military operations against ISIS 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, told AFP from his hospital bed that the explosion happened during the first Bible reading of the morning mass at 7am on Saturday.

“It was really sudden and everyone ran,” Mr 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 hospital.

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

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,” Mr Gandamra said in a statement condemning the attack.

Military chief Gen Romeo Brawner said the bombing may have been a revenge attack for military operations against three militant groups – Dawlah Islamiyah-Philippines, Abu Sayyaf and Maute – in western Mindanao in recent days.

“That is one angle we are looking into,” Gen Brawner told a news conference. “Based on the evidence that we gathered there is a big percentage that points to the Maute-ISIS.”

“There are strong indications of a foreign element (in Sunday's attack),” Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro told reporters.

Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao del Sur are part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The country's Muslim minority were given self-rule in Bangsamoro under former president Rodrigo Duterte as part of efforts to head off the lure of violent extremism.

Updated: December 03, 2023, 9:31 AM