ZAMBOANGA CITY: At least 16 people were injured in a grenade attack on Christmas Eve outside a Roman Catholic church in southern Philippines where security forces have launched continuing offensives against jihadists in the restive region.
Authorities said a police officer was among those injured in the attack outside the Santo Nino Church in North Cotabato’s Midsayap town.
The blast also damaged a police car parked outside the church, where Catholics were hearing Mass.
No individual or group has claimed responsibility for the daring attack but police are eyeing several groups, including rebels and drug gangs, as behind the explosion that wounded mostly Christians.
The blast sent worshippers scampering for safety, thinking rebels or jihadists had mounted an attack.
Earlier in the day, Moro rebels held several cargo trucks and used them to block a major highway in nearby Maguindanao province.
The rebels had fled the area before security forces arrived.
The daring action, blamed by the military on the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, was apparently meant to shame authorities.
It showed how vulnerable the province was to such an assault from a group of around 200 members who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and other local jihadists.
The police and the military said the rebels managed to block the highway in Guindulungan town, which links several municipalities.
There were no reports of casualties or injuries and the rebels did not harm drivers of the trucks.
It was not immediately known why security forces failed to detect the rebel action.
The 6th Infantry Division and the military’s Western Mindanao Command did not issue any statement.
The BIFF has been fighting for a separate Islamic state for many years now since it was formed by former leaders of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014.