Suspected Muslim guerrillas detonated a bomb near a Roman Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippines yesterday, killing at least five people and wounding 46.
Pope Benedict XVI condemned the attack.
The bomb exploded outside the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cotabato City as churchgoers were attending Mass. Two people were killed instantly in the attack and three others, including a militiaman, later died in hospital, military officials said.
Among the wounded were six soldiers and militiamen who were in an army van that passed by the cathedral when the device, fashioned from a mortar round, exploded, Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema said.
The improvised explosive, which was set off remotely by mobile phone, was hidden near a row of food stalls selling roasted pig, Major General Alfredo Cayton said.
Police arrested one man seen using a phone during the explosion. He was carrying three identification cards with different names, Sema said.
Cathedral guard Nestor Luna said shrapnel flew in all directions, inflicting wounds on his head, arms and feet.
“I wanted to help the wounded, but I felt dizzy and saw my white uniform soaked in blood. Somebody helped me walk away,” Luna said by telephone from the Cotabato Regional Medical Center. “Whoever did this should know that they hit so many innocent civilians.”
At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI deplored the bomb attack.
“While I pray to God for the victims of this ignoble gesture, I raise my voice to condemn yet again the recourse to violence, which is never a worthwhile way to solve existing problems,” Benedict told pilgrims in St Peter’s Square.
Chief nurse Norma Reyes said at least seven of the wounded were in critical condition and needed surgery.
TV footage showed four wounded soldiers sitting dazed on the sidewalk and a militiaman lying unconscious, face down on the seat of the shrapnel-damaged van.
Two bodies lay sprawled near the sidewalk, while a stunned woman limped out of a food stall, blood dripping from her foot. Soldiers helped the wounded into ambulances with sirens wailing.
Army troops with assault rifles surrounded the cathedral and cordoned off nearby streets, footage showed.
Cayton immediately blamed the 11,500-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has been targeted by a months-long military offensive in nearby Maguindanao Province and outlying regions.
“Nobody has the motive, the capability and the track record to carry out this terrorist attack except [the group],” Cayton said.
Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu denied his group was involved and condemned the bombing. He said the rebels would not do anything to foment a religious war.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romero Brawner said investigators were trying to determine if the attackers targeted the military van.
“They will hit any place where civilians congregate. They have no regard for life,” Brawner said.
A similar bomb went off on a roadside in Datu Piang Township in nearby Maguindanao late on Saturday, wounding three people in an attack believed to have also been staged by the rebels, Brawner said.