Last Friday, Filipino authorities arrested 16 individuals after raiding a Muslim library in downtown Manila. During the arrests, police officials apparently discovered a cache of homemade explosive devices in the library. The arrests were made shortly before the scheduled “Feast of Black Nazarene” event, leading the police to suspect that the explosives were intended for the annual nationwide event where thousands of Catholics flock to Manila to attend a parade. The name “Black Nazarene” comes from the ebony-colored icon of Jesus carried by devotees during the celebration.
According to the Senior Superintendent Elmer Jamias, the Manila police had successfully adverted a tragedy from occurring. “They would [have] rig their bodies with bombs, join the procession, and blow themselves up. God made sure this would not happen,” Jamias said during a news conference. Jamias also said that the individuals involved were part of “Return to Islam” movement, made up of former-Christians who had converted to Islam.
According to AFP sources, Filipino police recovered three homemade explosive devices and two guns. Domestic-based journalists have also reported seeing military-grade grenades amongst the pile of weapons uncovered from the police raid. Whether or not grenades were actually found on scene has yet to be verified at this moment. Nonetheless, the Manila bomb squad arrived to safely dispose of the homemade explosives found on site.
So far, reports indicate that no one has been injured in the course of the arrests. The suspects, now in police custody, have openly denied any connection with the bomb plot, claiming that the evidence was planted. Amongst those arrested included three women.
At this time, police are still examining possible connections that the suspects may have with the Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asia wing of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization. Thus far, investigations into this matter remain inconclusive.
On January 9 of each year, thousands of Filipino Catholics would take to the streets in the capital of Manila in celebration of the “Feast of Black Nazarene.” The crowd would follow a procession carrying an ebony icon of Jesus, starting from the Quiapo church and leading to the streets of the capital. In the largely Roman Catholic Philippines, Catholics account for about 83% of the total population, while Protestants account for 9% and Muslims account for 5%.
As of now, the Philippines has seen a decades-long battle between government forces and separatist insurgents in Mindanao. The insurgents refer to themselves as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and have been held under suspicion for harboring Jemaah Islamiyah members for some time.
Yesterday, security remained tight during the “Feast of Black Nazarene.” According to major domestic news services, the number of devotees who showed up was at a record high despite major terror threats. Security personnel, meanwhile, remained on scene to watch over the thousands of devotees who gathered for this nationwide event.