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16 hurt as two men throw grenade at churchgoers

At least 16 people, including a policeman, were hurt after two men aboard a motorbike threw a grenade in front of a Catholic church on Christmas eve in Midsayap, Cotabato.

The policeman was identified as Senior Police Officer 4 (SPO4) Johnny C. Caballero who was rushed to the Amado Hospital together with fellow victims Ejimar Bargaso Loques, 22, Jonel Rillo Orquiola 14, Kent Steven Robles, 16, Jessa Mae Banlawi 19, Little Joy Costales Singco 33 and three year-old Princess Nicole Capundog.

Cheyserr Mae Rosete, Jofer Asis, Regor Pedrosa, Ronaldo Soles, Arniel Silvano and Jennilyn Silvano were brought to Pesante Hospital while Leah Butan who suffered serious damage in her right leg was rushed to the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center

Two other victims Ronald Duga, 30 and Arissen Bagot, 13 were also brought to different hospitals.

Initial investigation reveals the one of the two suspects threw the explosive beneath a patrol car of the Midsayap Municipal Police Station which was parked in front of the Archdiocesan Shrine of Santo Niño in Midsayap.

Father Jay Virador told reporters the communion was going on at the time the explosion happened.

A Philippine Army Explosive Ordnance (EOD) team immediately responded to the scene and identified the type of explosive as an M61 US fragmentation grenade.

Regional police spokesman Supt. Romeo Galgo disclosed the bomber might have wanted to come closer to their potential victims but strict security measures that were in place at that time prevented the suspect from getting near to churchgoers.

Authorities are still trying to determine who are responsible for the brazen attack. (FRANCIS T. WAKEFIELD)