10/09/2014, 00.00
PHILIPPINES

North Cotabato: grenade attack on Protestant church, two dead and three wounded

The attack took place in the late afternoon yesterday, during a prayer service. Two men on a motorcycle threw a grenade at the place of worship. So far no official claims, the assailants managed to escape. Pastor Jerry Sanchez condemns violence.

Manila (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Two Christians have been killed and three others wounded in an grenade attack  late yesterday afternoon in the southern Philippines. Police sources report that two men on a motorcycle threw a grenade at the main entrance of the United Church of Christ in the town of Pikit, in the province of North Cotabato, on the southern island of Mindanao.

Local witnesses say that the community in the small southern town was gathered in prayer, when suddenly a loud explosion was heard. At the moment there are no claims or official news about the attack; the assailants managed to make a clean get away.  

The victims are a nurse of 54 and a teacher of  39, who were hit by shrapnel and died due to the severity of their injuries. Pikit police chief Mautin Pangandigan, reports that a M203 grenade launcher was used. Another teacher and two businessmen are injured and hospitalized, but there are no further details about their conditions.

Pastor Jerry Sanchez explained that at the time of the attack, there were at least 40 worshipers inside the church. "We have no idea why it happened - adds the local leader of the Protestant community - but we condemn this act of brutal force." He reports that the community has been active in promoting peace in the region.

In recent years, the province of Cotabato has been the subject of numerous attacks carried out by criminal gangs linked to local political leaders or Islamic extremist Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Often, however, these acts go unpunished because of the climate of impunity that characterizes the Muslim majority region of Mindanao, which suffered more than 40 years of war between Muslim rebels and the army.

Pikit, in particular, is a well-known base for criminals and fighters linked to extremist Islamic movements.

The peace agreement between the Milf and Manilashould put an end to the violence, but extremist groups - such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (Biff) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) - have tried several times to hinder it.

In recent days, the police and government forces have been on alert for possible attacks from groups opposed to the peace agreements, but they do not rule out the involvement of clans and families engaged in bloody feuds for control of the territory.

 

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