At least four people were killed and around 50 others injured Sunday in an explosion at a Roman Catholic Mass inside a university gymnasium in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, the military and police said, adding that they suspected the involvement of the Islamic State affiliate in the Philippines.
The blast, thought to be caused by a grenade or a homemade bomb, ripped through a gymnasium at Mindanao State University. The university, in Lanao del Sur province, had been at the center of fighting in 2017 that displaced more than 100,000 people, after local and foreign Islamic State militants laid siege to Marawi.
At least 1,200 militants, government forces and civilians were killed during those battles, which lasted for five months. Parts of Marawi, in the region with the country’s biggest Muslim population, remain off limits to civilians because there are still unexploded ordnance from the conflict.
In a statement, Lanao del Sur province’s top official, Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr., condemned the attack and urged investigators to get to the bottom of what he called an attack on both educational institutions and religious freedom.
Lt. Col. Palawan Miondas, a local army spokesman, said the military suspected that members of the local Islamic State chapter may have orchestrated Sunday’s attack in retaliation for the death of the man considered to be the leader of the Islamic State for Southeast Asia. That man, Abu Zacharia, was killed during a military operation near Marawi in June of this year.
Maj. Gen. Gabriel Viray III, commander of the 1st Infantry Division in the area, said an investigation was underway to determine if the local Islamic state affiliate, known as the Daulah Islamiyah-Maute Group, was responsible. (Daulah Islamiyah means “Islamic State” in the local language). He said that about 40 Daulah Islamiyah militants were currently known to operate in and around the province.
“We are looking at the bomb signature and trying to determine if it’s them,” he said, adding, “We are on heightened alert and our troops remain vigilant.”