Police Arrest Militants Planning Bomb Attack at Catholic Festival

Philippines police arrested 16 suspected Islamic militants planning to carry out a suicide attack on a crowded Roman Catholic festival, seizing three homemade bombs. The suspects, including three women, were detained after police raided a Muslim information center in downtown Manila.

"We seized three improvised explosive devices, a caliber .-45 and a caliber .38 guns," said Manila's Chief Superintendent Pedro Bulaong, as reported by Agence-France Presse (AFP). Journalists on the scene said grenades were also found.

Senior Superintendent Elmer Jamias said the 16 militants were planning to strap their bodies with explosives to serve as suicide bombers at this Sunday’s Feast of the Black Nazarene—an annual Catholic procession in downtown Manila.

"They would rig their bodies with bombs, join the procession, and blow themselves up. God made sure this would not happen," Jamias told reporters Friday.

Sources say tens of thousands of Catholic devotees, barefoot and wearing maroon tunics, take part in the annual Jan. 9 procession in which an ebony icon of Jesus is taken from Manila's Quiapo church and paraded around the district.

"Had we not recovered these bombs and arrested these people, the procession could have turned into a bloodbath," Jamias said.

According to the police chief, the suspects were members of a movement known as "Return to Islam" movement, made up of former Christians who have converted to Islam.

The authorities are currently checking whether any of the suspects have ties to Islamic militants operating abroad.