ZAMBOANGA CITY: An improvised explo-sive went off outside a Catholic church in the predominantly Muslim province of Basilan, officials said on Saturday.
The bomb exploded at the gate of Saint Peter Parish Church in Lamitan City late Friday but police and military authorities said there were no casualties in the attack.
No individual or group claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the radical group Abu Sayyaf has previously targeted Catholic priests in Basilan, one of five provinces under the restive Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.
Religious leaders condemned the attack on the church and security forces have tightened its watch on the area. Father Pascual Benitez told the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) that he could be the target of the bombing.
“So I was maybe the target because the bomb was placed on the gate which I used when I went out of the convent,” Benitez told CBCP.
The 40-year old priest said he was watching television in the convent when the bomb went off at about 9:30 p.m. He said the church’s main gate was damage from the attack.
Broken parts of a cell phone—believed used by the bomber to trigger explosion—had been recovered by police investigators outside the church.
In a separate statement by the Catholic media service UCAN, Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad said he was “saddened and surprised” by the incident.
“Let us not drag religion to let it appear that there is tension between Muslims and Catholics. Instead, we continue to work together for peace and harmony,” he said.
Regional governor Mujiv Hataman has previously ordered an all-out war against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, just several nautical miles south of Zamboanga.