The dead included troops and civilians. The country’s national police chief said the first bomb went off in or near the Jolo cathedral during a Sunday mass. A second blast occurred outside the compound as government forces were responding to the attack. Some casualties were evacuated by air to nearby Zamboanga city. It is home to several Islamist insurgent groups. Jolo island has long been troubled by the presence of Abu Sayyaf militants, who are nominated by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organisation. No one however has immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack.
The explosion follows a Monday referendum asking the majority-Muslim population whether they back a plan by separatists and the government to create a new self-administered region. The majority of the 2.8 million people participating in the vote supported the referendum, but the town of Jolo rejected it. In a statement, Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana “strongly” condemned the bombing and said he has directed troops to “heighten their alert level” and secure places of worship and public spaces.