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2 blasts rock Jolo cathedral; 7 dead — reports

In this photo provided by WESMINCOM Armed Forces of the Philippines, bomb victims receive treatment in a hospital after two bombs exploded outside a Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo, the capital of Sulu province in southern Philippines where militants are active Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019. The Philippine government says it will “pursue to the ends of the earth the ruthless perpetrators” behind bomb attacks that killed over a dozen people and wounded many more during a Sunday Mass at a cathedral on the restive southern island. (WESMINCOM Armed Forces of the Philippines Via AP)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – At least two civilians and five soldiers were killed while at least 20 were wounded in a twin blast that hit the Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo, Sulu, on Sunday morning at about 8 a.m.

Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, told a radio interview that Mass was ongoing at the Marian Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel when a blast occurred inside the church.

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Two civilians were killed in the explosion, Besana said.

However, the Associated Press reported that three civilians dead, citing other security officials.

Moments later, another explosion happened at the parking lot of the cathedral while government forces were responding to the incident.

Five soldiers were reported killed.

“One exploded and another one exploded outside it,” said an operative who witnessed the explosion.

“We are augmenting our men at KHTB (Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista) hospital to attend to the wounded. We’ve instructed our troops to intensify checkpoint operations and be extra vigilant and exercise utmost care,” the operative said.

Jolo island has long been troubled by the presence of Abu Sayyaf militants, who are blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization because of years of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.

No one has immediately claimed responsibility.

The attack came nearly a week after minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation endorsed a new autonomous region in the southern Philippines in hopes of ending nearly five decades of a separatist rebellion that has left 150,000 people dead.

Although most of the Muslim areas approved it, voters in Sulu province, where Jolo is located, rejected it. The province is home to a rival rebel faction that’s opposed to the deal as well as the Abu Sayyaf group, which is not part of any peace process.

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

“The motive is surely… terrorism. These are people who do not want peace. It is sad that this happened right after the Bangsamoro law was ratified,” Besana said. /cbb

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