Seven people were killed while five others were injured when a bomb exploded near a church in Sumisip, Basilan on Tuesday.
Police said the explosion occurred near the Vincent Ferrer parish church where most of the victims had attended mass.
The casualties were identified as Rey Limbin, Elbert Gomoba, Kitarul Kaddik, Leniebel Cisneros, Lourdes Ablong and Badjon Gomoba. The seventh victim, Therese Claire Alegarbes, died on the way to a hospital.
The wounded were identified as Janice Alegarbes, mother of one of the fatalities; Trining and Jessa Dingcong, and Ronel and Samson Limben. They were brought to the Zamboanga City Medical Center for treatment.
Police said the victims had just emerged from the church to attend a New Year’s Eve celebration nearby in front of the house of Manuel Cisneros, a militiaman of Sitio Fine Tree, Barangay Tumahubong when the improvised explosive device exploded at 9:47 p.m.
Police said the bomb was placed inside a bag that was left under a chair.
The military, on the other hand, reported that a grenade was used in the attack.
Military bomb experts went to the scene and concluded that the explosion was caused by a grenade.
“Five died instantly while two others expired later,” said Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces Public Affairs Office (PAO) chief.
Zagala added the grenade blast was further aggravated by broken bottles where the explosion occurred.
Authorities suspect the Abu Sayyaf was behind the attack.
The victims were among the cooperative plantation workers in the village where Abu Sayyaf bandits have been staging attacks for extortion.
There were also reports of squabbles between armed groups and officials of the cooperative overseeing the operations of a 4,000-hectare rubber plantation in the area.
Barangay officials said there were indications that the victims knew the bomber.
“Accordingly, the suspect, who arrived carrying the bag containing the improvised explosive, was even served food by some of the victims. The bomb exploded after the suspect left,” a barangay official told The STAR.
Malacañang condemned “the senseless killing,” saying security and law enforcement authorities had been directed to pursue and arrest the perpetrators.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman said they had given financial assistance to the victims and shouldered funeral costs of those who died.