Twenty people were killed and at least 100 were wounded after two bombs exploded minutes apart and tore through a Roman Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippines during a Sunday Mass.
Witnesses told the Associated Press that the churchgoers, some of them injured, ran outside after the first bomb went off. The second bomb exploded as first responders arrived at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, the capital of a predominantly Muslim Sulu province. The second blast caused more casualties and injuries. Both troops and civilians were killed, reports state.
Military forces secured the area surrounding the blast and transported the injured to the nearest hospitals, Delfin Lorenzana, Philippines' defense secretary, said in a statement.
"I have directed our troops to heighten their alert level, secure all places of worships and public places at once, and initiate pro-active security measures to thwart hostile plans," Lorenzana said.
All casualties were immediately evacuated out of the area, CNN reported.
The office of President Rodrigo Duterte announced from Manila that it will "pursue to the ends of the earth the ruthless perpetrators behind this dastardly crime until every killer is brought to justice and put behind bars. The law will give them no mercy,"
The office also said that "the enemies of the state boldly challenged the government's capability to secure the safety of citizens in that region. The [Armed Forces of the Philippines] will rise to the challenge and crush these godless criminals."
The Islamic State reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.
What area is it located in?
Jolo is known as a base for Islamist militants, especially those from the small Abu Sayyaf group. The group is known as one of the most violent Islamic separatist groups in the Philippines. The Abu Sayyaf militants are labeled as a terrorist organization by both the Philippines and the U.S. and they have "carried out several major bombings since the group began in 1991," NPR reported.
The Philippines is a predominantly Roman Catholic nation that recently endorsed a new autonomous region in the southern Philippines. The move was made in hopes of "ending nearly five decades of a separatist rebellion that has left 150,000 people dead," the Associated Press reported. Most of the Muslim areas approved the agreement, but voters in Sulu province, where Jolo is located, rejected it.