On Sunday, January 27, Islamic militants bombed a Catholic cathedral during Mass in the Philippines. At least 20 people were killed and 111 wounded.
At 8:45 am, two explosives were detonated about a minute apart in or near the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo. According to the Associated Press, “The initial explosion scattered the wooden pews inside the main hall and blasted window glass panels, and the second bomb hurled human remains and debris across a town square fronting the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, witnesses said.”
Photos on social media showed human bodies and remains strewn on the street just outside the cathedral. Last heard, the officiating priest, Fr. Ricky Bacolcol, “was still in shock and could not speak about what happened,” to quote a colleague.
After the first bomb detonated, army troops and police posted outside the cathedral rushed in, at which point the second bomb went off. Fifteen of the slain were civilians, five military men; 90 of the wounded were civilians.
The cathedral, located in a Muslim-majority area, was heavily guarded because it had been hit before: grenades were hurled at it twice in 2010, both times damaging the building; and in 1997, Catholic Bishop, Benjamin de Jesus, was gunned down just outside the cathedral.
The Islamic State claimed this most recent attack in a statement, adding that the massacre was carried out by “two knights of martyrdom” against a “crusader temple.” A number of Islamic terror groups, including Abu Sayyaf, operating in the southern Philippines, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Although the Philippines is majority-Christian (chiefly Catholic), about 24% percent of the population of the Southern Philippines, also known as Mindanao, is Muslim. For decades, Islamic separatist groups have been waging a war of terrorism—replete with bombings, burnings, and beheadings (including of two Canadian men)—that has left an estimated 150,000 people dead.
In an effort to achieve peace, the central government has already granted much autonomy to Mindanao. Arguing that Muslims must be given self-rule, otherwise Filipinos will continue to “count body bags,” former president Benigno Aquino even allowed Sharia courts to operate. As Christians are still the overwhelming majority even in the Southern Philippines, this move was criticized: “What President Aquino is doing is treasonous to Christian communities in Mindanao,” argued Rolly Pelinggon, national convener of Mindanaoans for Mindanao.
But as seen in the most recent attack, for some separatists, nothing less than a supremacist Islamic State—modeled after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—where the most draconian dictates of Sharia are enforced, churches are banned, Christians are subjugated, and sex slaves are openly sold, will do.
In other words, Islamic terrorism in the Philippines is not merely inspired by political or territorial grievances, real or imagined, but rather is imbued with intrinsic hate for the other—for the “infidel.”
For instance, in May 2017, a jihadi uprising erupted in the Islamic city of Marawi. A civilian bus was stopped by Muslim militants; when nine passengers were discovered to be Christian—apparently for not being able to quote the Koran—they were tied together and shot dead, execution style. (Militant Muslims in nations such as Kenya and Nigeria have also been known to separate Muslims from Christians before slaughtering the latter.) The jihadis forced women into sex slavery and ordered Christian men to embrace Islam or be used as human shields against the army.
Churches are especially targeted. A few examples follow:
- April 29, 2018: A bomb explosion rocked Anthony Parish Church in Mindanao during Sunday mass. Although only two were hospitalized, fatalities could have been significant as the church was packed with people attending a mass christening. Police later described the attack as bearing “the signature of an Islamic extremist group.”
- November 10, 2017: Militant Muslims desecrated and doused a Catholic chapel with gasoline in an effort to torch it in the Mindanao region. Religious images and icons were destroyed.
- May 23, 2017: Muslims inspired by “a demonic ideology,” to quote a Catholic prelate, desecrated and torched the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi. A video of them shouting Islam’s triumphant war cry—“Allahu Akbar” (Allah is greater)—while stomping on and destroying Bibles, crosses, icons, and statues, before burning the cathedral, can be seen here.
- June 21, 2017: Militant Muslims vandalized another Catholic church. Describing the desecration as “wicked,” the chief police inspector said the “crucifix and images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ were destroyed while the sacred hosts were thrown all over the floor.”
- December 24, 2016: A grenade was lobbed at a church during Christmas Eve Mass; 16 celebrants were injured.
Violence directed against Christian house of worship has even prompted churches, such as the aforementioned St. Mary’s Cathedral in the city of Marawi, to close their doors during Easter 2018 in the Catholic-majority region.
Anti-Christian sentiment sparks in other ways. In 2017, a former Muslim convert to Christianity was found slaughtered in his home by local Muslims for apostatizing from Islam. A 70 year-old Irish nun living on the island of Mindanao who spent more than 30 years serving the Philippines, was gagged and repeatedly punched so badly by a masked assailant that she fell unconscious and required surgery.
Last Sunday’s fatal church blast that claimed 20 lives and wounded over 100 is the latest reminder that, as with other nations that have a sizeable Muslim minority, the Philippines is embroiled in the jihad. While the ostensible reason behind it may be political or territorial, the sadistic hate that accompanies most attacks on Christians and their churches suggests that ideology is the ultimate cause. In this, the jihad in the Philippines is virtually indistinguishable from its many foreign counterparts.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.