Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. denounced a tragic bombing on Sunday, attributing responsibility to “foreign terrorists.” Security measures were intensified in the southern regions and around Manila, the capital, as police and the military responded to the incident.

A bomb detonated during a morning Catholic Mass in a university gymnasium in Marawi, a city previously besieged by Islamist militants for five months in 2017, resulting in at least four deaths and 50 injuries.

Mr. Marcos expressed his condemnation in a statement, saying, “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the senseless and most heinous acts perpetrated by foreign terrorists. Extremists who wield violence against the innocent will always be regarded as enemies to our society.”

Pope Francis, during his Sunday address in Rome, offered prayers for the victims. In a separate written message, he appealed to “Christ the prince of peace (to) grant to all the strength to turn from violence and overcome every evil with good.”

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro assured that law enforcement operations to apprehend the perpetrators of this “terrorist activity” would “continue unabated.” Teodoro hinted at “strong indications of a foreign element” in the bombing but refrained from providing details to avoid compromising the ongoing investigation.

During a press conference, senior police official Emmanuel Peralta disclosed that fragments of a 16-mm mortar were recovered at the scene. The bombing in Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur province, occurred following military operations against local pro-Islamic State groups in the southern Philippines. A recent operation in Lanao del Sur led to the killing of a leader of the Dawlah Islamiya-Maute group.

“It is conceivable that this morning’s events were a retaliatory strike,” remarked Armed Forces Chief Romeo Brawner during the press conference.

The Maute group, affiliated with the Islamic State, seized control of Marawi in May 2017 with aspirations to establish it as a Southeast Asian “wilayat” or governorate for the Islamic State. In the subsequent five-month conflict, over a thousand lives were lost, including civilians, in clashes between Islamist fighters and Philippine forces.

Military officials conducted an assessment of the gym at the Mindanao State University, revealing its overall intact structure except for burn marks at the center, the site of the explosion. Images shared by the Lanao del Sur government on Facebook depicted white plastic chairs scattered about.

Videos from DZBB radio on X portrayed rescuers transporting injured individuals out of the gym using plastic chairs.

In response to the incident, police offices in Mindanao and the capital region heightened security measures, with tightened checkpoints aimed at preventing potential follow-up incidents, as stated by police official Peralta.

The Coast Guard instructed its districts to enhance pre-departure inspections at ports in a proactive measure.

Mindanao State University expressed profound sorrow and strong condemnation for the recent act of violence that transpired during a religious gathering, as conveyed in their Facebook post. The institution is deeply saddened and appalled by this senseless and horrific incident. In response to the situation, the university has decided to suspend classes indefinitely until further notice.

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