4 killed, 50 wounded in bombing attack during Mass at Mindanao State University
ILIGAN CITY, Lanao del Norte, Philippines — At least four people have been killed and 5o others wounded by a deadly bomb explosion inside the Dimaporo Gym of the Mindanao State University (MSU) during a Catholic Mass attended by students past 7 a.m. on Sunday, authorities reported.
Brig. Gen. Allan Cruz Nobleza, police regional director of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), reported three persons were killed on the spot and another one died before reaching the Amai Pakpak Medical Center (APMC), where rescuers rushed 43 people wounded from the blast.
Aside from the 42 wounded people being treated at the APMC, another eight injured were treated at the MSU infirmary facility.
Mass started when IED exploded
It was learned that the officiating priest, Fr. Benigno Flores Jr., had already started the Mass celebrating Advent when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded 15 minutes into the ceremony.
Flores was not hit and was immediately whisked away to safety, but church workers said he was still in shock and could not speak to reporters.
Ginalyn Rose Galarosa, a chemical engineering student, who incurred a minor wound in her right leg, said the blast occurred in the middle of the crowd a few meters from where she was standing.
Galarosa was among the more than 200 students fetched by the Zamboanga del Sur provincial government and taken home.
According to Nobleza, initial information showed that the improvised bomb was set off through a mobile phone.
“Explosive and bomb disposal experts are still determining the composition of explosives,” Nobleza said.
He added: “It was a Catholic Mass, it is being held at the MSU gymnasium for Catholic students and faculty every Sunday.”
The explosions triggered some anxiety among some Moro groups who felt that the Moro areas in Mindanao had always been a staging ground in the past for forces that wished to destabilize the government.
“Whatever your purpose may be, please don’t use Marawi City because we have not recovered yet from the siege of 2017,” said Drieza Lininding, chair of the Moro Consensus Group.
MSU suspended classes
MSU has suspended classes “until further notice” and has deployed additional security to safeguard the campus. It is also working with the local government and the police to investigate the incident and bring perpetrators to justice, said a statement issued by the MSU Office of the President.
The statement said the university was “appalled and deeply saddened” by the act of violence inside the campus and especially during Sunday’s religious gathering at the gym.
It said that the university’s immediate priority was to ensure the safety and well-being of all constituents, particularly the campus’ Christian community. “We are aware of the heightened sensitivities and concerns that arise from such tragic event and we want to assure everyone that we are taking every measure possible to protect our students, faculty and staff,” the MSU statement said.
“We stand in solidarity with our Christian community and all those affected by this tragedy. We will not be deterred by this act of violence and we will continue to work toward building a more peaceful and just MSU community.”
The statement condemned the attack as an assault to MSU’s core values as an institution of higher learning and its “commitment to create a safe and inclusive community for all.”
Lininding noted that the explosion was the first to have happened inside the MSU, which was spared from the ravage of the siege six years ago, when the Islamic State-inspired Maute group occupied sections of Marawi and triggered a five-month war with government forces.
Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chair Prospero de Vera III said his office would coordinate with the MSU administration in providing counseling and support to the individuals affected by the bombing incident, particularly the employees and students of the university.
De Vera, who is also chair of the MSU board of regents, said they would likewise review university policies to ensure that security measures will be added “so that this horrific event will not be repeated.”
“As CHEd Chairman, I urge the board of other [higher education institutions] to do the same,” he said in a statement on Sunday evening.
First District Lanao del Sur Rep. Zia Alonto Adiong said the explosion was not an “isolated incident,” but was connected to other violent incidents in the country outside Marawi City.
He likened the attack to what happened in Jolo, Sulu, when a twin explosion rocked Our Lady of Mount Carmel cathedral on Jan. 27, 2019, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than a hundred.
“I will not accept any report that would say this is an isolated case. It has something to do with other cases involving terrorist[s] outside of Marawi City…. This is something bigger than what we initially think,” Adiong said.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Sunday said there are “strong indications of a foreign element” behind the incident.
“We are not at liberty to disclose. It will hamper ongoing operations. There are strong indications of a foreign element and let’s leave it at that so that the investigation of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the PNP (Philippine National Police) will not be hampered,” he said.
“This was done during a religious occasion and the intent really [is] to foment terrorist activity, to foment confusion, chaos is a prime indicia of a terrorist activity,” he added.
AFP chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said they are “looking at all possible angles,” including the possibility of retaliatory attacks due to the military’s recent successful operations.
A self-proclaimed leader of terrorist group Dawlah Islamiyah was among the 11 suspects killed in military operations in Maguindanao del Sur on Friday.
Another operation on Saturday also “neutralized” Abu Sayyaf leader Mundi Sawadjaan in Basilan, who was the mastermind of Jolo twin bombings and other terrorist activities, Brawner said.
On Sunday morning, one sub-leader of Dawlah Islamiyah was killed from military operations in Piagapo, Lanao del Sur.
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