ISIS claims responsibility for church attack in southern Philippines, Latest World News - The New Paper

ISIS claims responsibility for church attack in southern Philippines

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Terror group says two suicide bombers detonated explosive belts in Philippine church

MANILA The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for a double bomb attack on a Catholic church on a southern Philippine island that killed at least 18 people, according to the Site Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activities.

ISIS issued a formal communique claiming two suicide bombers had detonated explosive belts on Sunday inside the church and its carpark on Jolo - a stronghold of Islamist militants in the Philippines.

But a military report said the second bomb was left in the utility box of a motorcycle in the parking area outside the church. Police said they believe the explosives were detonated remotely but did not elaborate.

Despite the contradictions, the authorities have not ruled out ISIS involvement.

Factions aligned with the group - including the notorious Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group - which were not part of the peace process, are prime suspects in the bombing.

The remote island of Jolo is a base of the group, which is blamed for deadly bombings, including an attack on a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that claimed 116 lives in the country's deadliest terror assault.

Experts voiced concern yesterday over the impact the attack would have on a decades-long push for peace that culminated last week in voters approving expanded Muslim self-rule in the south.

The vote was the result of negotiations started in the 1990s with the nation's largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and will give it considerable power over the so-called Bangsamoro region.

"This is a big challenge for the Bangsamoro government," said Mr Rommel Banlaoi, chair of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

The former rebels need to show they will be able to pull the region towards peace in order to attract much-needed investment to alleviate poverty and counter extremism, he said.

"MILF needs to prove it can make a difference... the gravity of the problem faced by MILF is wow, so overwhelming," he added.

The church attack came despite President Rodrigo Duterte putting the southern Philippines under martial rule after pro-ISIS militants seized the southern city of Marawi in May 2017.

Government officials have argued that martial rule, which gives the authorities extra powers, has been effective in taming the perpetually restive region.

Meanwhile, condolences poured in from around the world for the victims at the cathedral, which has been repeatedly targeted by grenade attacks that did not prove fatal.

Pope Francis, speaking in Panama, expressed his "strongest reprobation" for the violence.

Once again, he said, "the Christian community has been plunged into mourning".

World Bank economist Andrew Mason told broadcaster ABS-CBN: "When we see conflict areas, when we see ups-and-downs and negative impacts due to violence and conflict, what we see is also these are development opportunities that are squandered." - AFP