By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, (AA): At least 12 people have been injured after a grenade exploded outside a Catholic church during Christmas Eve mass in the Philippines’ troubled south.
Fr. Jay Virador of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, co-presider of the Nativity of the Lord Mass, said the explosion took place at around 9.45 p.m. (1345GMT) Saturday outside the Sto. Nino Parish church in Midsayap town of North Cotabato province.
“The Holy Mass was abruptly ended, no more concluding prayers as there was a commotion,” he was quoted as saying by The Philippine Inquirer. “People hurriedly left the church.”
Security forces in the Philippines and other across Southeast Asian countries have been on alert in past weeks, tightening security for the Christmas and New Year holiday season.
Numerous armed Muslim groups and a communist insurgency — some involved in an ongoing peace process with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration — operate in southern Mindanao, a region rich in resources, but among the country’s most underdeveloped due to decades-old conflicts that have left around 150,000 people dead.
No group has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack, which left at least 12 injured — including an elderly woman in a critical condition and a police officer.
Supt. Romeo Galgo Jr, speaking for police in Central Mindanao, said “we strongly condemn this evil acts, the police will continue performing its duties to ensure safety of all.”
Midsayap’s police chief, Supt. Bernardo Tayong, said bomb experts continued scouring the site of the explosion — which occurred near a police car in front of the church — for evidence.
The governor of the nearby Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Mujiv Hataman, extended his sympathy to those who sustained injuries.
“Whoever were behind the attack do not have religion. They are savages,” he said in a text message quoted by The Philippine Star.
[Archive Photo: Bomb blast outside bus station in Zamboanga City on 23 January 2015. Photographer: Hader Glang/AA]