MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine president blamed “foreign terrorists” for a bomb explosion that killed four people Sunday, injured dozens of other Catholic faithful in the south and triggered a security alarm, including in the capital Manila, where state forces were stationed were put on alert.

The suspected bomb, which police said was made from a mortar shell, exploded, hitting students and teachers attending a mass at a Mindanao State University gymnasium in the southern city of Marawi, Taha Mandangan, the state’s security chief campus, The Associated Press said by phone.

Dozens of students and teachers rushed out of the gym and the wounded were taken to hospitals.

Regional military commander Maj. Gen. Gabriel Viray III said the blast killed four people, including three women, and 50 others were taken to two hospitals for treatment.

Six of the wounded were fighting for their lives in a hospital, said Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. of the Islamic province of Lanao del Sur, whose capital is Marawi.

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the senseless and most heinous acts of foreign terrorists at Mindanao State University,” President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in a statement. “Extremists who commit violence against innocent people will always be viewed as enemies of our society.”

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Marcos did not explain why he immediately blamed foreign militants for the high-profile bombing. Defense Minister Gilberto Teodoro Jr. later said at a news conference, without elaborating, that there were strong indications of a “foreign element” in the bombing.

The military’s chief of staff, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., said the bombing could be retaliation by Muslim militants for a series of setbacks in combat.

“We are examining possible aspects,” said Brawner. “It could be a retaliatory attack.”

He referred to the killing of 11 suspected Islamist militants in a military offensive supported by air strikes and artillery fire on Friday near the town of Datu Hoffer in the southern province of Maguindanao.

Regional police director Brig. Gen. Allan Nobleza said the slain militants belonged to Dawlah Islamiyah, an armed group allied with the Islamic State group and still present in Lanao del Sur province.

The mosque-studded city of Marawi was attacked by foreign and local Islamist militants who joined the Islamic State group in 2017. The five-month siege killed more than 1,100 people, mostly militants, before it was crushed by Philippine forces supported by air strikes and surveillance aircraft deployed by the United States and Australia.

Army troops and police sealed off the university shortly after the bombing and launched an investigation. They checked the surveillance cameras for clues as to who might be responsible for the attack. Security checkpoints have been set up around the city.

Police Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Peralta told reporters that military and police bomb experts found fragments of a 60mm mortar shell at the site of the attack.

Such explosives, made from mortar shells, had been used in previous attacks by Islamist militants in the south of the country.

The deadly explosion triggered a security alert outside the city of Marawi as the Christmas season ushered in a period of travel, shopping and traffic jams across the country. Police and other state forces have been placed on “heightened alert” in the Manila area, security officials said.

The Philippine Coast Guard said it had ordered all its personnel to step up intelligence gathering, tighten screening of passenger ferries and deploy bomb-sniffing dogs and sea marshals.

“Amidst this barbaric act, the best public service must prevail,” Coast Guard Chief Admiral Ronnie Gavan said.

The southern Philippines is home to the Muslim minority in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation and the scene of decades of separatist insurgency.

The largest armed insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, signed a peace deal with the government in 2014 that significantly defused decades of fighting. But a number of smaller armed groups rejected the peace deal and continued to carry out bombings and other attacks while evading government offensives.

Source : www.pbs.org

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