A GRENADE hurled inside a mosque in Zamboanga City around 12:20 a.m. yesterday killed two Muslim preachers and injured four others, police said.
The Zamboanga City Police Office is investigating the motive and identity of the suspect who hurled the grenade into the mosque in Logoy Diutay in Barangay Talon-Talon, said Police Regional Office 9 director Chief Superintendent Emmanuel Luis D. Licup.
Licup said they are looking into “personal grudge” as among the motives behind the attack.
The explosion killed Sattal Bato, 47; and Rex Habil, 46; who were both pronounced dead upon arrival at the Zamboanga City Medical Hospital, and injured Yasson Asgali, 46; Paulo Salahddin, 41; Albani Jikilani, 67; and Amidz Kassara, 30.
The victims were described as Muslim religious leaders from Basilan and nearby provinces who went to Zamboanga City to teach Islam to children.
Licup said that an initial investigation showed that the grenade was thrown by the suspect into the mosque while the victims were asleep.
It was the second explosion to hit Mindanao since last Sunday although police are yet to say if the Zamboanga City grenade blast was connected to Sunday’s bombing at the Jolo Cathedral which killed 21 people and injured over 100 others.
However, security officials are not discounting the possibility that the suspect or suspects could be “riding on the Jolo incident.”
“We’re still looking at it (retaliation), but we have not found any connection,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters. “In the past when churches were bombed... there were no revenge attacks.”
Authorities have not publicly identified any suspects and no one has claimed responsibility for the mosque attack.
Security forces are also hunting for the bombers behind the cathedral assault on the overwhelmingly Muslim island of Jolo, which security forces initially said was not a suicide bombing.
However, on Tuesday President Rodrigo Duterte contradicted them saying one of the bombers had blown himself up outside the cathedral.
On Wednesday Lorenzana appeared to walk back the president’s comments, saying: “The final conclusion is not there yet. It’s still being investigated.”
The probe was zeroing in on a group tied to the notorious Islamist kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Police said they tried to arrest one of the suspects on Tuesday, but he got away and an armed man was shot dead by officers in the process.
The attacks have cast a shadow over hopes that voters’ decisive push to give Muslims in the south more control over their own affairs would help quell long-running separatist violence.
Rebels and the government in Manila have expressed hope the new so-called Bangsamoro area will finally draw the investment needed to pull the region out of the brutal poverty that makes it a hotspot for recruiting radicals.
However, hardline factions aligned with IS were not part of the decades-long peace process with the nation’s largest separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, that culminated January 21 with the resounding approval of a new Muslim led-region in the south.
Jolo, which is home to hardline Islamist factions, is the only area in the southern Philippines that voted against the Bangsamoro.
The grenade attack on Wednesday drew immediate condemnation from authorities.
“There is no redeeming such blasphemous murder. It is the highest form of cowardice and obscenity to attack people who at prayer,” said regional leader Mujiv Hataman.
“We call on people of all faiths... to come together to pray for peace.”
The Ulama Council of Zamboanga Peninsula condemned the incident describing it as “devillish, irrational and an inhumane act.”
“We call upon the Zamboangeneos to be calm yet vigilant with current bombing incident in Masjid Jutay in Barangay Talon Talon, Zamboanga City. We share the grief of the families who lost their loved ones and sincerely extend our condolences to them in the most comforting manner that a human being may. May the perpetrators of the crime be brought to justice,” the group said in a statement.
With a report from AFP