Philippines: Catholic Cathedral targeted in Zamboanga.

General April 25, 2008

By: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

A crude but powerful bomb exploded outside Zamboanga's large modern
metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at 4:20am on Sunday 13
April. While it caused no injuries, that was not the intention of the bombers.
According to Zamboanga City police chief, Jonathan Perez, the bombers had
intended to plant their two bombs inside the Cathedral and then detonate them
during the 5 am Mass. (Link 1)

The insidious terror plot was foiled when the church caretaker noticed three
men acting suspiciously and talking in a dialect spoken on the mainly-Muslim
island of Jolo. He alerted the Cathedral's security guard, forcing the
suspects to withdraw. Before fleeing on their motorbike the suspects planted
one bomb under a parish vehicle parked in the church compound which they
detonated by mobile phone once they were clear. The suspects got only about
one kilometre down the road before police closed in on them. At that point
they threw the other bomb towards nearby shops and detonated it.

According to Spero News, the bomb that that exploded in the compound of the
Immaculate Conception Cathedral caused no injures, but along with the parish
van "another parish vehicle and staircases at the side of the two-storey
cathedral were damaged as well. The blast also peppered a wall with shrapnel,
broke the leg of a saint's statue and cracked some stained-glass windows."
(Link 2)

According to police, the evidence implicates the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic
terror group, Abu Sayyaf. ["Abu Sayyaf" is Arabic for "bearer of the sword".]
Zamboanga City police chief, Jonathan Perez, said the bombs were similar to
those used by the Abu Sayyaf in previous attacks in other parts of the south.
"The signature on the bombs were almost identical. They used a mobile phone to
detonate a crude bomb made from an 81mm and 60mm mortars." (Link 1)

On 17 April Zamboanga's Sun Star reported that the police and military
authorities in Zamboanga City had identified one of the suspects in the
Cathedral bombing as "Joel Salem alias Abu Madja, an Abu Sayyaf bomb expert."
(Link 3)

If the bombers had been successful they would have perpetrated a serious act
of terrorism that would surely have resulted in multiple fatalities and left
many worshippers with serious injuries.

---------------------------------

For a map of the Philippines see:
http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/islands_oceans_poles/philippines.pdf
Zamboanga is on the south-west coast of Mindanao; and Basilan, Jolo and
Tawi-Tawi islands are in the Sulu Archipelago immediately to the south of
Zamboanga.

---------------------------------

While kidnappings and attacks targeting foreigners, Christian missionaries and
government and military institutions in the Southern Philippines are not new,
the recent church bombing conforms to an escalating trend of Islamic militants
targeting of Catholic clergy and Catholic institutions.

Earlier this year Compass Direct < http://www.compassdirect.org > reported: "On
January 15, 10 armed men broke into the Notre Dame convent school in Tabawan,
Tawi-Tawi, [Sth Philippines] run by Fr. Roda -- popularly known as 'Fr. Rey.'
They dragged Fr. Roda and a Muslim teacher, Omar Taub, out to the schoolyard.
When Fr. Roda fought with the gunmen, they shot him several times and escaped
with Taub."

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reported on 12 March that Catholic clergy on
the island of Jolo are now living under armed guard on account of the
escalating persecution and threat.

"Bishop Angelito Lampon, the Apostolic Vicar of Jolo in the Philippines, told
the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) how he and the other
priests and religious [figures] in Jolo are now under military protection,
following the spate of murders and kidnappings against Church personnel over
recent years. He himself had to build a guard house at the front gate of his
Episcopal residence. He calls on all his Catholic brothers and sisters around
the world to pray for the Church in Jolo that she may have 'the strength and
courage to continue her path, regardless of the external circumstances'." (Link 4)

According to ACN, Bishop Lampon fears for the future because the political
leaders seem to have "no interest for the common good in their hearts".
According to the bishop a handful of people of goodwill have been unable to
break through the entrenched attitudes which are very individualistic and
clannish with little regard for the common good.

Bishop Lampon told ACN that despite all the difficulties confronting the
Catholic Church in Jolo, she will continue her work there. He said Christians
have been commanded "to forgive seventy times seven times" and to reach out to
others with "a hand of friendship and reconciliation". However he also noted
that attacks and persecutions are persistent. He said that while occasionally
there are acts of violence that are quite serious, it is the day to day
hostilities that make life in Jolo very difficult. As an example he said a
Muslim mother might sweep her yard and then dump the rubbish in front of the
door of her Christian neighbour. Bishop Lampon said that he has been abused
and spat on in the street when he was dressed and recognised as a priest.

He also told ACN that while Muslims make up 97 percent of the population of
Jolo, some of those Muslims do sympathise with the Christians on account of
the great humanitarian work they do for the people, especially in the fields
of education and healthcare, as well as housing and micro-financing programs
for the poor. He noted that on the Island of Jolo alone, through the
initiative of the Church, over 3,000 low-cost housing units had been erected
for the poor -- and the majority of the beneficiaries are Muslims.

By Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Philippines eyes Abu Sayyaf in cathedral blast
MANILA (Reuters) Monday 14 April 2008
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/MAN245287.htm

2) Philippines: Zamboanga bishop condemns attack
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
http://www.speroforum.com/site/print.asp?idarticle=15078

Pictures:
http://zamboangajournal.blogspot.com/2008/04/2-bombings-rocked-zamboanga-city-in.html


3) Zambo bombing suspect is a Sayyaf bomb expert
By Bong P Garcia, 17 April 2008
http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/zam/2008/04/17/news/zambo.bombing.suspect.is.a.sayyaf.bomb.expert.html


4) Aid to the Church in Need
News, Wednesday, 12th March 2008 – Philippines
Philippines: Bishop and priests in need of security guards.
http://members4.boardhost.com/acnaus/msg/1205290499.html

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