Philippine authorities called for calm on Jan. 30 after a grenade attack on a mosque in a mainly Christian southern province killed two people, just three days after a devastating church bombing shook the restive Mindanao region.
A grenade was thrown into a mosque during the night in Zamboanga, killing two people and wounding four others, prompting condemnation and calls for cool heads and unity in the community where Christians and Muslims have long lived in peaceful coexistence.
The grenade incident came a few hours after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on television an attack on a church that killed 21 people on Jolo island may have involved a suicide bomber.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Jan. 30 said the second of two explosions in the church was “probably” a suicide bombing but said it was not clear if ISIS was really behind it the attack as they had claimed online. The identity of the “martyr” has not been revealed.
ISIS claimed responsibility of the attack on Jan. 28. The military believes it was the work of the Islamic extremist group Abu Sayyaf, which embedded itself in the Philippines and pledged allegiance to ISIS. They are also known as ISIS-Philippines Province and are blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization because of years of bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings.
Lorenzana told reporters forensic tests would be carried out to try to establish if the suspected bomber was a foreigner.
If confirmed, it would be the second known case of a suicide attack in the Philippines in recent years, following a bomb in a van last July on neighboring Basilan island, which killed 11 people and was claimed by ISIS.
Lorenzana said there was no connection between the church bombs and the mosque attack, echoing remarks by a local task force commander that it was “not a retaliatory act.”
‘Cowardice and Obscenity’
Zamboanga’s Ulama Council called it “devilish, irrational, and inhumane,” while the regional governor condemned the church and mosque incidents and said an attack during prayers was the “highest form of cowardice and obscenity.”
“We must stand united against the terrorists who would divide us and, thus, destroy all that we are working to build and establish in our communities,” governor Mujiv Hataman said on his Facebook page.
Muslims are a minority in the predominantly Catholic Philippines and represent about a quarter of the population of the Mindanao region, where communal violence is rare.
The attacks follow a peaceful Jan. 21 referendum that overwhelmingly approved a peace agreement, the Bangsamoro Organic Law, between the government and millions of Filipino Muslims living in the predominantly Muslim parts of Mindanao—an agreement that has the potential to end decades of separatist struggle.
Duterte on Jan. 28 ordered the military to destroy the notoriously brutal Abu Sayyaf, which is comprised of numerous cells with different agendas, some radical, others criminal.
He said he would not accept their surrender, adding “the only way to fight them is to become evil also.”
The military has since identified several suspects and carried out an air strike on Jolo on Jan. 29 on an undisclosed target.
The bombings, and ISIS’s claim of involvement, reveals how the foreign-aligned group is disrupting Southeast Asia and the risk of foreign fighters gravitating to Mindanao to capitalize on porous borders, jungles, and the abundance of weapons and jobless, unschooled youth.
Martial law has been in place in Mindanao since a pro-ISIS alliance overran Marawi City in 2017, in what was the Philippines’ most intense battle since World War Two.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.