Manila: Sixteen people have been wounded in a grenade explosion outside a Catholic church during a Christmas Eve mass on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, according to local police and a priest.
Bernardo Tayong, Midsayap town police chief, said most of the injured had been standing outside the Sto Nino parish church in Midsayap town, North Cotabato.
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Father Jay Virador said the blast sent the congregation fleeing.
“There was no more concluding prayers as there was a commotion,” he said. “People hurriedly left the church.”
One police officer was wounded during the explosion.
Tayong said bomb experts were still at the site and that there were reports that another grenade or improvised bomb was also left in the area.
“Our details are sketchy yet,” he said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the Mindanao attack, but Muslim rebels and Islamist extremists are known to be active in the province, where there have been blasts in the past.
Security forces across South-East Asia are on alert during the Christmas and New Year holidays. Police in Australia and Indonesia have already confirmed they had foiled bomb plots, while Malaysian security forces have arrested suspected militants.
The US embassy in Manila said citizens had been warned against travelling to volatile southern islands due to kidnapping and bombing threats.
In September, 14 people died and 70 were wounded when an improvised bomb exploded in a crowded market in Davao City, hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte. Nine people, who were linked to an Islamic State militant-affiliated group have been arrested for the attack.