Officials in the Philippines have pledged to seek out those responsible for the bombing of a cathedral in the south of the country that killed 20 people and injured at least 100 on Sunday 27 January.
The first explosion went off inside the cathedral as worshippers gathered for a Sunday service, and was followed by a second blast outside, detonating as worshippers fled and security forces arrived at the scene.
The attack on the island of Jolo, the capital of Sulu province, came six days after Sulu voters rejected its inclusion in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of the southern Philippines. The referendum overwhelmingly approved – with 85% in favour – the formal creation of the Region in other districts of the mainly-Muslim Mindanao island group.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but police suspect it was the work of Abu Sayyaf, an IS-linked militant group active in the area for decades.
A spokesman for Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte said, “The enemies of the state have boldly challenged the capability of the government to secure the safety of the citizenry in that region.” He added, “The armed forces of the Philippines will rise to the challenge and crush these godless criminals.”
The 2018 Memorandum of Agreement for the autonomous region and the introduction of Bangsamoro Basic Law, including elements of sharia (Islamic law), was an attempt by the government to find a political solution to end decades of fighting between Muslim jihadist groups and the army in the majority-Christian country. In May 2017, around 100 jihadists had seized control of the city of Marawi, causing thousands of residents to flee.
The agreement effectively created an Islamic sub-state within a secular, pluralistic and mainly Christian country. When this was first proposed in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional, and Muslim armed groups responded with violence against Christians, killing some and displacing others.
The recent referendum vote, approving the formal creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, will permit further Islamisation of the region, bringing serious concerns over how this will negatively impact non-Muslims living there.