Pope, world leaders condemn 'terror' attack on Jolo church

Reuters

Posted at Jan 28 2019 12:42 AM | Updated as of Jan 28 2019 10:30 AM

PANAMA CITY -- (UPDATED) Pope Francis on Sunday condemned the twin bombings that killed at least 20 people during a Catholic Church service in the Philippines as a "terrorist attack" and prayed that God would convert the hearts of those who carried it out.

The attack also wounded 81 and was one of the deadliest in recent years in a region long plagued by instability.

Francis, speaking at a hospice for AIDS sufferers on the last day of his trip here, expressed his "firm condemnation of this act of violence that causes more mourning in the Christian community. I pray for the dead and the injured. May the Lord, prince of peace, convert the hearts of the violent ones."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but police suspect the bombings were the work of Abu Sayyaf, a militant group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and is notorious for its bombings and brutality.

The first explosion went off inside the cathedral on Jolo Island in Sulu Province, and was followed by a second blast outside, which was detonated as security forces raced to the scene, officials said.

The pope visited the Philippines, the most Catholic country in Asia, in 2015.

The international community also extended their sympathies to Manila.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the attack a "despicable act of cowardice" and offered condolences to affected families.

"I reaffirm Australia’s strong condemnation of all acts of terror. A timely reminder to Australians to stay up to date with our travel advice," Australian ambassador to the Philippines Australian envoy Steve Robinson said.

The European Union condemned the church bombings as an attack on people's basic right to practice religion and affirmed its commitment to peace efforts in the southern Philippines.

"A human tragedy, this is also an attack against the basic right to practice one’s religion. The European Union fully supports the Mindanao Peace Process and last week’s plebiscite on greater Bangsamoro regional autonomy. The EU plans to continue such support in the future," it said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for justice for victims of the deadly church attacks and condoled with affected Filipino families.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said Monday Washington "will do everything possible" to support Philippine troops following Sunday's church bombings.