Two suicide bombers struck the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu earlier today. The twin bombings were quickly claimed by the Islamic State, which has long sought to terrorize Christian houses of worship in the Philippines. 

The Islamic State describes the target as a “Christian temple,” saying that it was bombed during a “gathering of the Crusaders to perform their polytheist rituals.” The first suicide bomber purportedly “detonated his explosive belt at the gate,” while the second blew himself up in or near a “parking garage.” 

Authorities in the Philippines quickly pointed the finger at the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has a long history of targeting Christians. The Abu Sayyaf Group, which was affiliated with al Qaeda, swore allegiance to the Islamic State in June 2016. It is not clear how many members of the group remained loyal to the so-called caliphate after the death of Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf leader who swore his fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in 2017. But some of its factions are clearly still part of the Islamic State’s network, which has worked to enhance the operational capacity and connectivity of jihadists in the region. 

The Islamic State has encouraged its loyalists to strike churches and Christians around the globe. A family of Islamic State supporters carried out suicide bombings at three churches in the Indonesian city of Surabaya in May 2018. Egypt’s Coptic Christians are frequent victims of the jihadists, as churches and civilians have been attacked multiple times. In Feb. 2015, the Islamic State’s Libyan arm released a grisly video documenting the mass murder of 21 Egyptian Copts on the coast of the Mediterranean. 

On July 26, 2016, a pair of jihadists assaulted a church during morning mass in Normandy, France, killing an elderly priest and taking several people hostage before being gunned down by police. The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency released a video showing the two swearing an oath of allegiance to Baghdadi shortly before carrying out the murder. 

In June 2017, the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency released a video showing the destruction of a church inside the city of Marawi. The jihadists briefly held the southern Philippines city before being ejected by the military and security forces. 

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