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BLAST ROCKS MARAWI UNIVERSITY CATHOLIC MASS; 4 DEAD, 72 HURT; Red alert up in Mindanao, Metro Manila tightens security

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief
MARAWI CITY/QUEZON CITY  — At least four people, one of them a teacher, were killed and 72 people were injured and rushed to hospitals following an explosion last Sunday at the Dimaporo Gymnasium inside the Mindanao State University campus as a Catholic mass was being celebrated prompting the military, police and other agencies to go on red, full or heightened alert in Mindanao and Metro Manila.
Observers the blast ignited new fears about the Islamist State (IS) terrorist group which led to massive siege and destruction in Marawi years ago.

The Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) reported on  December 5, that out of the 72 injuries,  five patients were confined at Amai Pakpak Medical Center; two were transferred to Misamis Oriental Hospital and Iligan City; 12 are admitted at the Mindanao State University (MSU) Infirmary Clinic; and 53 have been discharged from medical facilities.

As on Monday, December 4, the OCD reported that 15,746 were affected by the explosion, with 893 students either transported back to their respective homes assisted by local government units or awaiting transport at the MSU campus gymnasium.

According to the OCD, the current situation in the capital of Lanao del Sur is “already stable,” but there is still lingering fear among affected individuals given the traumatic experience associated during the Marawi Siege.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) later identified the two persons of interest (POI) allegedly linked to the Dec. 3 bombing, one of them was arrested later.

PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said in Camp Crame, Quezon City,  they are Kadapi Mimbesa alias ‘Engineer’ and Arsani Membesa alias ‘Khatab’, ‘Hatab’ and ‘Lapitos’, both members of Daulah Islamiyah-Maute Group.

She said Mimbesa was the one seen by witnesses as carrying the bag which purportedly contained the bomb used in the blast.

Mimbesa has a standing arrest warrant for murder in Marawi City.

Fajardo said the suspects were identified based on the description of the witnesses.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr.  said the military has launched intensified operations against the Daulah Islamiyah (DI) local terrorist group operating in Lanao del Sur.

Brawner, meanwhile, urged the public to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings following the attack.

The government led by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. condemned what he said as a “senseless and most heinous” act “perpetrated by foreign terrorists” as he ordered additional security forces to ensure safety of all.

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the senseless and most heinous acts perpetrated by foreign terrorists upon the MSU and Marawi communities early this Sunday morning. Extremists who wield violence against the innocent will always be regarded as enemies to our society,” Marcos said.

“Rest assured we will bring the perpetrators of this ruthless act to justice,” he said, thanking local officials for quickly responding to the incident and for promptly assisting the victims.

Marcos, at the same time, urged the public to “remain calm, circumspect, and conscientious…to ensure that the horrific events…are not further compounded by inaccurate, unvetted, and unofficial information.”

 Vice President Sara Duterte  urged vigilance to thwart a possible further attack on civilians as she condemned the explosion that hit a university gymnasium in Marawi, Lanao del Sur, that killed at least four people.

“Nakikiramay po ako sa mga pamilya ng mga biktima ng pagsabog ng bomba sa loob ng Mindanao State University sa Marawi City nitong araw ng Linggo,” Duterte said in a statement.

“Kasabay nito ay ang ating mahigpit na pagkondena na nangyaring pagpapasabog at sa mga tao o grupo na nasa likod nito.”

 Pope Francis on Sunday sent a message of assurance to the victims of the deadly blast in Marawi City, which happened during a mass inside Mindanao State University.

“I’d also like to assure the victims in the Philippines where there was a bomb that exploded during mass. I am very close to the families of Mindanao who have suffered so much because of this,” the Pope said in his message.

Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, member of the Council of Leaders in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, also sent his condolences to the families of the victims.

“The massacre at the Mindanao State University Gym in Marawi City during Sunday Mass this morning is a crime that literally cries out to heaven. Perpetrated on the 1st Sunday of Advent, a season of hope, and at the beginning of the Mindanao Week of Peace, the massacre is the most terrible and most damnable terroristic crime against innocent worshippers on a Christian holy day,” he said in a statement.

“It is a tragic re-enactment of the insane bombing in the Jolo Cathedral during Sunday Mass several years ago. I call upon our law enforcement agencies to ferret out the perpetrators of this heinous crime and bring to justice. For the victims and for their grieving families, my deep personal condolences and prayers. Let peace begin in our hearts,” he added.

ISIS earlier claimed responsibility for the attack.

Authorities have launched a manhunt to find two persons of interest in the deadly bombing last Sunday in Marawi City, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr.

“Your armed forces is already conducting a manhunt, a massive operation, to go against the perpetrators of this incident,”  Brawner said, adding they are optimistic they will be able to catch these people soon.

Brawner said both persons of interest are male. He also said 19 witnesses were interviewed and some of them said they saw a man wearing a black jacket and a black mask enter the gymnasium with a bag and later left without it.

Brawner said the bombing may be a retaliatory attack, as it came in the heels of a number of government operations against terrorist groups.

There was an operation against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao on Dec. 1, and another on Dec. 2 that killed Abu Sayyaf Group leader Mudzrimar Sawadjaan, known to be responsible for the 2019 Jolo Cathedral bombing that killed 20 people.

Brawner said they do not expect a bombing similar to what occurred in 2017, which launched the Marawi siege.