Blast outside Catholic Church injures 16 in Philippines
NORTH COTABATO – At least 16 people were injured in a grenade attack outside a Catholic church on Christmas Eve in southern Philippines where security forces have launched offensives against jihadists in the restive region.
Authorities said among the injured in the attack late Saturday outside the Santo Nino church in North Cotabato’s Midsayap town was a police officer. A police car parked outside the church, where Catholics were hearing mass, was also damaged from the blast.
No individual or group has claimed responsibility for the daring attack, but police were eyeing several groups, including rebels and drug gangs, as behind the blast that wounded mostly Christians.
The explosion sent worshippers scampering for safety thinking rebels or jihadists had mounted an attack.
Earlier in the day, Moro rebels held several cargo trucks and used them to blockade a major highway in nearby Maguindanao province. The rebels fled the area before security forces could arrive.
The daring action, blamed by the military to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, was meant to shame authorities and clearly showed how vulnerable the province was from such assault from a group of around 200 members who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and other local jihadists.
Police and military said the rebels managed to block the highway in Guindulungan town which links several municipalities. There were no reports of casualties or injuries and the drivers of the trucks were unharmed by rebels.
It was not immediately known why security forces failed to detect the rebels. The 6th Infantry Division and the military’s Western Mindanao Command did not issue any statement, but the BIFF has been fighting for a separate Islamic state for many years now since its formation by former leaders of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front which signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014. (Mindanao Examiner)