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Bomb blast in Philippine police chapel

church blastMANILA, Philippines: A priest and five churchgoers were slightly wounded in a bomb blast during Christmas Day Mass at a police chapel in the volatile southern Philippines, the military said Saturday.

The improvised explosive was hidden in the ceiling of the chapel, which is located inside a police camp in Jolo town on Jolo Island, a stronghold of al-Qaida-linked militants, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang.

The wounded were taken to a hospital but their injuries were not life threatening, he said, adding that the roof of the chapel was damaged.

It wasn’t immediately clear who was responsible, but similar bomb attacks in the majority Muslim island province have been blamed on Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, who have gained notoriety for high-profile kidnappings and beheadings.

The military estimates that battle setbacks, arrests and surrenders have reduced the group’s strength to more than 300 from more than 1,000 guerrillas during its heyday in 2000.

The Abu Sayyaf is on a US list of terrorist organizations and is suspected of having received funds and training from al-Qaida.

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