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20 dead as bombs Sunday Mass in Philippine cathedral



JOLO, Philippines (AP) – Two bombs separated through a Roman Catholic cathedral on a southern Philippine island where Muslim militants are active, killing at least 20 people and wounding 111 others during a Sunday Mass, officials said. ] Witnesses said the first blast inside the Jolo cathedral in the provincial capital sent churchgoers, some of them wounded, stampede out of the main door. Army troops and police posted outside were rushing in when the second bomb went off about one minute later near the main entrance, causing more deaths and injuries. The military explored a report that the second explosive device had been attached to a parked motorcycle.

The initial explosion scattered the wooden pews inside the main hall and blasted window glass panels, and the second bomb hurled human remains and debris across and a town square facing the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, witnesses said. Cellphone signal was cut off in the first hours after the attack. The witnesses who spoke to The Associated Press refused to give their names or were busy at the scene of the blasts

Police said at least 20 people died and 111 were wounded, correcting an earlier toll due to double counting. The fatalities included 15 civilians and five troops. Among the wounded were 17 troops, two police, two coast guard and 90 civilians.

Troops in armored carriers sealed off the main road leading to the church while the vehicles transported the dead and wounded to the town hospital. Some of the casualties were evacuated by air to the nearby Zamboanga city

"We have directed our troops to heighten their alert level, secure all places of worship and public places at once, and initiate pro-active security measures to thwart hostile plans," (196599010) Related: Life in Marawi, Philippines:

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Life in Marawi, Philippines

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Evacuees walk past and a government soldier who is a manning and a checkpoint at a main street of Marawi city, after a government troops' continuous assault with insurgents from the so-called Maute group, who took over large parts of the city, in Marawi City, southern Philippines May 27 , 2017. REUTERS / Romeo Ranoco

Residents put their belongings in a tricycle as they prepare to evacuate Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on May 26, 2017, as the battle between government troops and Islamist militants continue.
Foreigners are among Islamic gunmen battling security forces in a southern Philippine city, the government said May 26 as the reported death toll from four days of clashes climbed to 46. AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (photo credit should read TED ALJIBE / AFP / Getty Images]

A man displaced by fighting between government soldiers and Maute group, cooks rice at a provocative evacuation center outside a military camp in Marawi City in southern Philippines May 30, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro

Philippine Marines smile at the media near the stronghold of the Maute group in Marawi City in southern Philippines May 30, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro

A woman displaced by fighting between government soldiers and Maute group rests near a cat at an improvised evacuation center in Marawi City, southern Philippines May 30, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro

A government soldier taking a break standing near a military vehicle inside a military camp in Marawi City, southern Philippine with May 30, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro

REUTERS / Erik De Castro

Residents displaced by fighting between government soldiers and Maute group, fetch water in Marawi City in southern Philippines Maute group takes a break inside a military camp in Marawi City, southern Philippines May 30, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro

Residents displaced by fighting between government soldiers and Maute group, resting on a hammock outside a military camp in Marawi City in the southern Philippines May 30, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro

REUTERS / Erik De Castro

Residents who were displaced due to the Maute group in Marawi City, Philippines May 28, 2017. fighting between government soldiers and the Maute militant group, displaying a white flag at a house in Marawi City in southern Philippines May 28, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro

MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES – MAY 26: Residents and Secu rity personel attend Friday morning prayers inside a mosque in a cleared area inside the city, a day before Ramadan, on May 26, 2017 in Marawi city, southern Philippines. Filipino officials announced on Friday that foreign fighters were among the Islamist militants killed in Marawi city during gun battles between ISIS-linked militants and security troops this week. President Rodrigo Duterte has declared 60 days of martial law in Mindanao on Tuesday after local terrorist groups Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf ramped through the southern city and said that martial law could be extended across the Philippines to enforce order allowing for detention of people without charge . Based on reports, at least 31 ISIS-linked militants and 13 government troops have been killed so far while thousands of residents continue to flee from Malawi city. (Photo by Jes Aznar / Getty Images)

Residents who were displaced due to fighting between government soldiers and the Maute militant group, carry plastic containers of water in Marawi City in southern Philippines May 28, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro [19659025] REUTERS / Erik De Castro

A resident of the empty plastic containers for water in Marawi City due to fighting between government soldiers and the Maute militant group in southern Philippines. inside a vehicle in Marawi City in southern Philippines May 28, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro

A woman rests on a sidewalk in Marawi City as a fighting rage between government soldiers and the Maute militant group in southern Philippines May 27, 2017 REUTERS / Erik De Castro

People stand on a roadside as billowing smoke is seen at the site of fighting between government soldiers and Maute group in Marawi City, southern Philippines May 30, 2017 REUTERS / Erik De Castro

Philippine Marines smile at the media near the stronghold of the Maute group in Marawi City in southern Philippines May 30, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro

Residents flee to the residential neighborhood of Marawi City as fighting rebels between government soldiers and the Maute militant group, in southern Philippines May 27, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro

MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES – MAY 30: Residents who survived the siege of ISIS-linked militaries in an evacuation center inside thi city on May 30, 2017 in Marawi city, southern Philippines. Philippine government troops are battling their way as they move toward the city center where ISIS-linked militants have been holed for almost a week. The fighting at Marawi city had forced around 85,000 people to seek refuge at evacuation centers in Marawi as week-long gun battles between ISIS-linked militants and security troops rose to around 100 with at least 19 civilians being killed in the fighting, according to local media. The Philippine authorities announced around 2,000 people were stranded amid street battles and air strikes while bodies of foreign Islamist militants were discovered during the ongoing battles in the southern city. President Rodrigo Duterte has declared 60 days of martial law in Mindanao on Tuesday after local terrorist groups Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf rampaged through Marawi city and said that martial law could be extended across Philippines while thousands of residents continue to flee the crisis in Marawi, which is home to some 200,000 people. Jes Aznar / Getty Images

Residents stand on the rooftop of a house overlooking the smoke from burning houses in Marawi City due to fighting between government soldiers and the Maute militant group in southern Philippines May 27, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro [19659033] MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES – MAY 30: Residents who survived the siege of ISIS-linked militaries in an evacuation center inside the city on May 30, 2017 in Marawi city, southern Philippines. Philippine government troops are battling their way as they move toward the city center where ISIS-linked militants have been holed for almost a week. The fighting at Marawi city had forced around 85,000 people to seek refuge at evacuation centers in Marawi as week-long gun battles between ISIS-linked militants and security troops rose to around 100 with at least 19 civilians being killed in the fighting, according to local media. The Philippine authorities announced around 2,000 people were stranded amid street battles and air strikes while bodies of foreign Islamist militants were discovered during the ongoing battles in the southern city. President Rodrigo Duterte has declared 60 days of martial law in Mindanao on Tuesday after local terrorist groups Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf rampaged through Marawi city and said that martial law could be extended across Philippines while thousands of residents continue to flee the crisis in Marawi, which is home to some 200,000 people. Jes Aznar / Getty Images

Evacuees from Marawi at an evacuation center in Balo-i on the southern island of Mindanao on May 29, 2017.
Security forces traded heavy gunfire with Islamist militants inside a southern Philippine city on May 29, as fears grew up to 2,000 people unable to escape a week of fighting that left women and children among the dead. / AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (19659035) A close-up of a government soldier's bullet bandoliers is seen as he arranges them on his shoulder while advancing his position in Marawi City , Philippines May 28, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro

A family from Marawi rest at an evacuation center in Balo-i on the southern island of Mindanao on May 29, 2017.
Security forces traded heavy gunfire with Islamist militants inside a southern Philippine city on May 29, as fears grew up to 2,000 people unable to escape a week of fighting that left women and children among the dead. / AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (19659037) MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES – MAY 28: An empty street that shows evidence of gunfights and people hastily leaving their belongings on May 28, 2017 (AFP / AFP / Getty Images) in Marawi city, southern Philippines. The Philippine authorities announced on Sunday the death toll during the gun battles between ISIS-linked militants and security troops had risen to at least 85, including executed civilians and foreign Islamist militants among the killed in Marawi city. President Rodrigo Duterte had declared 60 days of martial law in Mindanao on Tuesday after local terrorist groups Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf ramped through the southern city and said martial law could be extended across Philippines while thousands of residents continue to flee from Marawi city.




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"We will pursue to the ends of the earth the ruthless perpetrators behind this dastardly crime until every killer is brought to justice and put behind bars "The law will give them no mercy," the office of President Rodrigo Duterte said in Manila

It said that "the enemies of the state boldly challenged the government's ability to secure the safety of citizens in that region. Forces of the Philippines will rise to the challenge and crush these godless criminals. "

Jolo Island has long been troubled by the presence of Abu Sayyaf militants, who are blacklisted by the United States and Philippines as a terrorist organization because of years of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. A Catholic Bishop, Benjamin de Jesus, was shot down by suspected militants outside the cathedral in 1997.

It came almost a week after the minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation endorsed a new autonomous region in southern Philippines in hopes of ending nearly five decades of a separatist rebellion that has left 150,000 dead people. Although most of the Muslims have approved the autonomy deal, voters in Sulu province, where Jolo is located, rejected it.

Western governments have welcomed the autonomy of the pact. They fear that a small number of Islamic State-linked militants from the Middle East and Southeast Asia could forge an alliance with the Philippine insurgents and turn south into a breeding ground for extremists

"This bomb attack was done in a place of peace and worship, and it comes at a time when we are preparing for another stage of the peace process in Mindanao, "said Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. "Human lives are irreplaceable," he added, calling on Jolo residents to cooperate with the authorities to find the perpetrators of this "atrocity."

Security officials were looking at different threat groups and they still can not say if this has something to do with the just-ended plebiscite, "Oscar Albayalde, the national police chief, told the ABS-CBN TV network. Hermogenes Esperon, the national security adviser, said that the new autonomous region, called Bangsamoro, "signifies the end of war for secession."

Aside from the small but brutal Abu Sayyaf group, another militant groups in Sulu include a small band of young jihadis aligned with the Islamic State Group, which has also carried out assaults, including kidnapping and beheadings.

Abu Sayyaf militants are still holding at least five ostans – a Dutch national, two Malaysians , an Indonesian and a Filipino – in their jungle bases mostly near Sulu's Patikul town, not far from Jolo

Government forces have pressed on sporadic offensives to crush militants, including those in Jolo, a poverty-wracked island of more than 700,000 people. A few thousand Catholics live mostly in the capital of Jolo

There have been speculations that bombings may be a diversionary move by Muslim militants after troops recently conducted an offensive that killed a number of IS-linked extremists in a camp in the hinterlands of Lanao del Sur province, also in the south. The area is near Marawi, and a Muslim city that was besieged for five months by hundreds of IS-aligned militants, including foreign fighters, in 2017. The troops quelled the insurrection, which left more than 1,100 mostly militants dead and the heartland of the mosque-studded

Duterte declared a martial law in the southern third of the country to deal with Marawi siege, his worst security crisis.

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Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, has contributed to this report.

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