A suspected bomb blast killed at least four people and wounded at least 50 others during a Catholic Mass in a university gymnasium in the southern Philippines on Sunday, authorities said.
The explosion occurred around 8:30 a.m. local time (0030 GMT) at the Mindanao State University gymnasium in Marawi City, where hundreds of worshippers had gathered for the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the Christmas season. The blast ripped through the wooden bleachers and sent debris flying across the gym, witnesses said. Many of the victims were students and faculty members of the university, which is the largest in the region.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr blamed “foreign terrorists” and vowed to bring them to justice.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the senseless and most heinous acts perpetrated by foreign terrorists,” Marcos said in a statement. “Extremists who wield violence against the innocent will always be regarded as enemies to our society.” Marcos said the bombing was an attempt to sow fear and division among the Filipino people, especially in the predominantly Muslim region of Mindanao, where a decades-long insurgency by Islamist separatists has killed tens of thousands of people. He said the government would not allow the terrorists to derail the peace process and the development of the region, which has been granted greater autonomy under a landmark agreement signed in 2019. He also assured the public that the security forces were on high alert and would protect the people from further attacks.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said there were “strong indications of a foreign element” in the bombing, but declined to give details, citing the ongoing investigation. He said the military and the police were pursuing several leads and had recovered fragments of a 16-mm mortar from the scene, suggesting that the bomb was remotely detonated.
He said the attack could be a retaliation for the recent military operations against local pro-Islamic State groups in the southern Philippines, including one on Sunday morning that killed a leader of the Dawlah Islamiya-Maute group in Lanao del Sur province, where Marawi is located. The Maute group was behind the siege of Marawi in 2017, when it joined forces with other militants loyal to Islamic State and occupied the city for five months, killing more than 1,200 people and displacing hundreds of thousands more.
The siege was the longest and deadliest urban warfare in Philippine history, and prompted Marcos to declare martial law in Mindanao, which lasted until 2019. Teodoro said the government was committed to rebuilding Marawi and restoring normalcy in the region, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and the security threats. He also appealed to the public to remain calm and vigilant, and to cooperate with the authorities in reporting any suspicious activities or persons.
The bombing in Marawi was the latest in a series of attacks on Christian targets in the southern Philippines, where about 20 percent of the population is Catholic.
Bomb blast at Catholic Mass in Marawi kills 4, injures 50