Two people were injured after a bomb went off outside a Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippines a day after regional leaders heard that the risk of terrorist attacks remains “very real”.
The explosion at St. Anthony’s cathedral took place on Sunday (29 April) in the City of Koronadal, capital of South Cotabato province. Another explosive device was found later outside a convenience store near the church.
“While the explosion caused fear among our people, it should serve as a challenge for us to be more vigilant and work for peace in our community,” Fr. Herminio Hongayo Jr, the parish priest, told the Catholic news site UCAN.
Although no-one has claimed responsibility for the attack, the police said the bomb “bore the signature of an Islamic extremist group” and blamed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a militant group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State. The group has carried out attacks such as the occupation of a school and vandalising the inside of a chapel last June.
‘Very real’ threats
Kordonadal City lies 175 miles (280km) south of Marawi, much of which was destroyed last year when government troops routed Islamist militants who had seized control of it five months earlier. Although the rebuilding of the city has started, there have also been warnings that militants are regrouping and preparing for another attempt to establish a Southeast Asian “caliphate” in the region.
Heads of state from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), meeting last week, discussed the threats to the region posed by terrorists and cyber-criminals. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned the meeting that the threats were “very real”.
Several countries in the region, including the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, have seen an increase in Islamist extremism in recent years, affecting Christian and other minorities, who have faced attacks and growing intolerance of non-Muslims.