ISIL: Cathedral Attack in the Sulu Province

Source: Reuters 2019

Abu Sayyaf attacked the Catholic Church, Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, during mass on January 27th in the Sulu Province of the Southern Philippines. The Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL) claims the two back-to-back bombings were the work of suicide bombers, which was later confirmed by Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano.

At least 20 people were killed in the attack and more than 100 individuals were injured. In response to this attack, the Filipino Government is on high alert and is conducting military operations to “destroy” Abu Sayyaf. President Duterte also declared martial law until the criminals are found.

Abu Sayyaf is a branch of the ISIL that has been active in the Philippines since 1991. The group is known for bombing a ferry in 2004, killing 116 people, as well as various kidnappings for ransom. The attack in Jolo is one of their largest to date, with 131 total casualties, as calculated by our Active Intelligence Database.

A week prior to the bombing, a referendum was conducted on the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which would allow for expanded autonomy of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. While experts don’t believe the two events are related, it’s possible that the attack was meant to further divide the Muslim and Christian communities in the province.

The Philippine government has taken proper steps to reassure the community through security personnel outside places of worship and patrols through large public areas. President Duterte responded with strong and ruthless commentary on the church bombing by declaring the military to take care of the threat posed by Abu Sayyaf by any means necessary.

The military adamantly agreed with Duterte and staged multiple manhunts to find Abu Sayyaf members behind the attack. The Army suffered a few fatalities in the altercations with Abu Sayyaf militants before making a major arrest.

On February 4th, five Abu Sayyaf members believed to have orchestrated the attack surrendered to the Philippine Army. This arrest, coupled with strong words from the President, undoubtedly relieved the fears of citizens in Jolo and throughout the Philippines.

At least 14 main suspects are still at large; however, the Philippine government needs to recognize that these main suspects are only one part of a larger terrorist organization. Abu Sayyaf has at least 400 members and the main suspects that the Army has in custody represent a small subset of the overall group.

The Philippine Government should gather the information they can from the members that surrendered in order to take down Abu Sayyaf. While the attack doesn’t seem related to the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the government needs to keep the referendum in mind as it symbolizes movement towards peace for many in the region.

Terrorism Has No Religion

Terrorism has no religion and no homeland. It is wrong to attribute terrorism to the teachings of a specific religion. Terrorists do not distinguish between Christian churches and Islamic mosques. Places of worship, in fact, be they mosques or churches, have both been harmed routinely by terrorists.

In addition to Christians and Muslims both being victims of terrorist attacks, terrorist attacks have targeted Sunni and Shiite mosques alike across the Middle East. In attacking holy sites, terrorists seek to destabilize the security and stability of the state, especially the economic sector. They seek to spread chaos and confusion among multiple groups and they seek to stir sedition and sow the seeds of sectarian strife.

Christian Churches of Egypt:

Churches in Egypt have been targeted by a series of terrorist bombings. Who can forget the December 11, 2016, terrorist attack on St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church (commonly known as El-Botroseya Church) in Cairo’s Abbasia district? 29 people were killed and 49 people, mostly women, and children were wounded [1]. And who can forget the twin terrorist attacks on April 9, 2017, that targeted St. George’s Church in the Egyptian city of Tanta and Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria? These attacks left 47 people dead and 126 injured [2]. 76 innocent people lost their lives inside houses of worship in these three attacks. The peaceful sounds of hymns mixed with the evil sounds of explosions. The following video describes the attacks on the two churches:  

The Muslim Mosques of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia:

On Friday, June 26, 2015, an Islamic State (ISIS) militant bombed Al-Imam Al-Sadiq mosque in the Al-Sawabir district of Kuwait City, killing 27 and injuring 227 during Friday afternoon prayers [3]. Further, the attack took place during the holy month of Ramadan, during which time Muslims worldwide fast to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. Those who were injured or killed were all praying when the terrorist entered the mosque and detonated his explosive belt [4]. The sounds of the peaceful Azan (the Muslim call to prayer) mixed with the evil sounds of explosions. Not only the Islamic, but the entire world was outraged by the attacks on the mosque in Kuwait.

These videos show the attack on the Shiite mosque in Kuwait:

On Monday, July 4, 2016, also during the holy month of Ramadan, a suicide bomb attack took place in the parking lot of Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, the Prophet’s Mosque. Al-Masjid an-Nabawi is one of the largest, holiest mosques in Islam.It was built by the Prophet Muhammad [5]. The mosque is located in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Four policemen were killed and five others were wounded in the suicide bomb attack [6]. Two other attacks took place in Saudi Arabia. One near the United States’ consulate in Jeddah and another targeted a Shiite Muslim mosque in Qatif. Terrorists have no respect for what is holy. The attack on one of Islam’s holiest sites brought condemnations from all around the Middle East and the world. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “This bombing, which happened during Ramadan outside the Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque, proves that terrorism has no religion and no faith.” [7]

The following video shows the attack on the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (The Prophet’s Mosque). It also shows two other attacks that took place at the same time Al-Masjid an-Nabawi was attacked:

The sentiment “Terrorism has no religion,” is no longer just a slogan: it is a dictum. Terrorists do not care about the sanctity of a Muslim mosque or a Christian church. They don’t differentiate between Sunni and Shia. Terrorists commit vile crimes in the name of peaceful religions.

Sources:

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/11/world/middleeast/cairo-coptic-cathedral-attack.html
  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/church-bombing-cairo-egypt-tanta-kills-dead-wounded-injured-latest-a7674761.html
  3. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33287136
  4. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kuwait-blast/islamic-state-suicide-bomber-kills-27-wounds-227-in-kuwait-mosque-idUSKBN0P618L20150626?virtualBrandChannel=11563
  5. https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/sc12435.doc.htm
  6. http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/suicide-attack-holy-site-saudi-arabia-city-medina-reports-86052859
  7. http://www.bbc.com/arabic/middleeast/2016/07/160704_saudi_arabia_blast
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