Islamic State admits hand in Marawi blast
MARAWI CITY, Lanao del Sur, Philippines — The local affiliate of the terrorist network Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Sunday Mass at the Mindanao State University (MSU) campus here, but the Armed Forces of the Philippines has expressed doubt, saying it is validating that claim.
The Jihad Terrorism Threat Monitor of the Middle East Media and Research Institute (Memri) tracked that pronouncement on Sunday by the Islamic State of East Asia Province (ISEAP), hours after the attack that left four dead and at least 50 wounded.
Based on the ISEAP pronouncements documented by Memri, Sunday’s attack was the second this year that mainly targeted Christians — the first being in September when local affiliates killed two farmers in a hinterland village in Kauswagan town, Lanao del Norte.
The MSU gym bombing, timed on the first Sunday of Advent, a major event in the Christian calendar, followed four years after a suicide bombing in January 2019 at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu, that killed 23 people.
There were at least two similar attacks in Mindanao before those bombings targeting a Christian gathering—the April 1992 grenade attack at an Easter Sunday procession outside St. Michael Cathedral in Iligan City, which killed five; and the lobbing of two grenades at a Mass in Davao City’s San Pedro Cathedral on Easter Sunday in 1981, killing 17.
Son’s last look
On Monday, Iligan Bishop Jose Rapadas led a Mass at the Capin Funeral Homes in Iligan City for Evangeline Aromin, a graduate student from Bansalan, Davao del Sur, and one of the four fatalities in Sunday’s blast.
Rapadas, who was joined by Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Emeritus Antonio Ledesma, urged the faithful to uphold compassion amid the tragedy to help transform the landscape of violence.
In an apparent demonstration of solidarity, throngs of Maranaos held a vigil for Aromin, who grew up in the MSU community.
Ireneo Barbante, an oxygen supply worker at Amai Pakpak Medical Center, was surprised to see the hospital on Sunday morning suddenly crowded, as many people arrived, bringing wounded men and women.
He inquired if there had been a car accident and was told that a bomb had exploded at the MSU gym — where, it suddenly occurred to him, his 26-year-old son Junrey was attending Mass.
His face and body covered with a bedsheet, Junrey was wheeled into the emergency room as Ireneo recognized his shoes.
He lifted the cloth and saw that it was his son, just as Junrey breathed his last — one of the four fatalities who was not killed instantly by the blast.
Brig. Gen. Allan Nobleza, director of the police regional office in the Bangsamoro, said the Philippine National Police had formed a task force to investigate the crime. It is now gathering evidence, including footage from a security camera outside the MSU gym that could help establish the identity of the suspects, he said.
PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said earlier that two persons of interest had been identified.
In a statement, AFP public affairs chief Col. Xerxes Trinidad said: “The AFP is validating the claims made by ISIS in the recent news reports as well as the involvement of the DI (Dawlah Islamiyah)-Maute Group in this heinous act of terror.”
“The AFP has already initiated its investigation in coordination with the PNP for the bomb signature that would help identify the terrorist group behind the bombing,” he added.
‘Horrific terrorist attack’
The incident has prompted the condemnation of several governments. Calling it a “horrific terrorist attack,” the US Department of State said, “The United States is in close contact with our Philippine partners and stands with the people of the Philippines in rejecting this act of violence.”
US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson, posting on X, said in part: “My heart goes out to those affected by the Mindanao State University bombing, especially the victims and their loved ones. I extend my deepest condolences on the part of the US government.”
The Embassy of Israel said, “Terrorism is a global threat that needs collective unity among nations to safeguard the well-being of all people and communities.”
“Our hearts go out to the victims and their bereaved families, and we extend our deepest condolences and sympathy during this difficult time. We also pray for the swift recovery of those injured,” it added.
In their posts on social media, the ambassadors of Australia, Canada, the European Union, Germany, Japan and Sweden also condemned the attack and expressed support for the Philippines.
Speaker Martin Romualdez, for his part, said: “The House of Representatives is fully committed to supporting the affected residents and ensuring that those responsible for this heinous act are brought to justice.”
“We stand ready to provide the necessary assistance to aid in the recovery and healing of the community,” Romualdez also said.
Rights watchdogs and activist groups, meanwhile, urged the public to resist possible attempts to exploit the incident and incite Islamophobia as well as discord among Christians and Muslims.