Two bombs explode at Philippines cathedral, killing at least 19 people

UN chief slams deadly terrorist attack in Philippines

UN chief slams deadly terrorist attack in Philippines

Last week voters decisively approved a more powerful autonomous region in the Philippines' south, which is hoped will bring peace and development after decades of fighting that have killed thousands and mired the area in poverty.

Five soldiers and two civilians were killed while 35 others were wounded, he added.

The first blast went off while churchgoers were inside the Jolo Cathedral in Sulu province, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf militant group.

He confirmed that an improvised explosive device (IED) was the cause of the first explosion and the second one was specifically targeted at the military unit responding to the incident.

And 15 other members of the security forces were wounded, Besana said.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called the attack a "dastardly act" and urged the local population to be vigilant and work with the authorities to "deny terrorism any victory".

He said: "I have directed our troops to heighten their alert level, secure all places of worships and public places at once, and initiate pro-active security measures to thwart hostile plans".

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The building has been hit by bombs in the past.

The attack happens after a predominantly Muslim area in the region voted for greater autonomy in a referendum last week.

The attack came almost a week after minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation endorsed a new autonomous region in the southern Philippines in hopes of ending almost five decades of a separatist rebellion that has left 150,000 people dead.

Elections will take place in three years.

While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the Philippines armed forces have always been fighting the Abu Sayyaf terrorists on the island of Mindanao.

Western governments have welcomed the vote.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

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