By Leah MarieAnn Klett, Christian Post Reporter 

A Muslim extremist group, primarily made up of teenagers, attacked a church in the Philippines, peppering the building and a statue of the patron saint with bullets.

Persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reports that in December, the Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a terrorist group based in the southern Philippines, attacked a parish church after conducting a raid on the town’s military and police outposts.

After a 15-minute firefight, both the church building and a statue of the patron saint bore bullet holes.

Police and military authorities said the BIFF had also plotted to set ablaze Sta. Teresita parish church and the church-run Notre Dame of Dulawan high school in the area. However, their attempt to burn the two church facilities was foiled by policemen and soldiers.

Just before the attack on the church, around 50 gunmen from BIFF laid siege to the police station of Datu Piang and burned a police patrol vehicle on December 3. The attack was carried out in response to the earlier arrest of two men with relatives in the BIFF.

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The terrorists also opened fire at local houses, sending residents running to safety or cowering in their homes. 

BIFF is an Islamic separatist organization that seeks an independent Islamic state for the Filipino Muslim minority, known as the Moro people, who live primarily in the Philippines’ Mindanao region. BIFF members pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014. 

The Philippines is a Christian-majority country, with more than 86% of the population professing the Christian faith. However, the country has seen escalating violence in recent years at the hands of Muslim militants allied with ISIS.

In August, pro-ISIS terrorists blew themselves up in attacks that killed at least 15 people — including seven soldiers, six civilians and a policeman — and injured 80 others in the city of Jolo, the capital of mainly Muslim Sulu province in the far south of the country, whose population is majority Roman Catholic.

In 2019, terrorists set off two explosive devices at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral, also known as the Jolo Cathedral, in the Mindanao region. The attack resulted in approximately 100 injuries and about 20 dead. 

In August 2019, pastor Ernesto Javier Estrella of the United Church of Christ in Antipas, Cotabato Province, was shot and killed on the Island of Mindanao.

In June 2018, Catholic priest Richmond Nilo was gunned down in a chapel in Zaragoza town in Nueva Ecija province, at the altar where he was preparing to celebrate mass.

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