Philippine officials say two bombs have exploded outside a Roman Catholic cathedral on a southern island where Muslim militants are active, killing at least eight people.
Witnesses said the first blast inside the Jolo cathedral sent churchgoers, some of them wounded, to stampede out of the main door. One of the bombs detonated inside the church while the other was at the cathedral's parking lot.
Police appear to suspect the bombings are the work of Abu Sayyaf, a homegrown insurgent group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and has been linked to series of bloody attacks on civilians as well as government troops, according to Reuters.
The island province has been known as a base of operations for the militant Abu Sayyaf Group, which has been listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called the attack a "dastardly act" and said "we will use the full force of the law to bring to justice the perpetrators behind this incident". "The law will give them no mercy", the office of President Rodrigo Duterte said.
Most other Muslim areas approved the plan, aimed at ending almost five decades of a separatist rebellion that has left 150,000 people dead in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
Sulu province - which includes Jolo - voted against the creation of the new region, with its governor filing a petition in the Supreme Court to prevent its formation.
The death toll in the blasts that hit a cathedral in the southern Philippine province of Sulu on Sunday morning has climbed to 20 people, while the number of injured reached 81, local media reported, citing police.
"They are a sub-group of Abu Sayyaf composed of fathers and brothers of Abu Sayyaf members killed by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines)".
The approval, which sealed a peace deal with the nation's largest Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, raised hopes for peace after decades of fighting killed some 150,000.
Chief Superintendent Graciano Mijares, police director in the region that covers Sulu, said in a report that at least 20 people had died, with over 100 wounded, including 14 soldiers and two men from the Coast Guard.
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