ZAMBOANGA CITY: Statues of Catholic saints in the small chapel of San Isidro Labrador were beheaded in the largely Muslim province of Basilan.

The attack on the church in Lamitan City coincided with the Roman Catholic observance of Ash Wednesday, and police are investigating the incident.

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One of the beheaded statues at San Isidro Labrador chapel in Basilan. Photo courtesy of Ronda del Basilan

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the desecration of the chapel, but suspicion fell heavily on the Abu Sayyaf and other pro-Islamic State (IS) groups violently fighting for the establishment of a caliphate. The statues were desecrated on Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, and police are trying to figure out who is behind the act.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Lenten period leading up to Easter, when Christians believe Jesus was resurrected. The ashes symbolize both death and repentance. During this period, Christians show repentance and mourning for their sins because they believe Christ died for them.

It was not the first time this happened.

In June 2017, an IS propaganda video surfaced on social media that showed its fighters desecrating Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi City in the Muslim province of Lanao del Sur.
The clip, believed to have been taken during the first week of the IS siege of Marawi, showed militants stomping and smashing statues of the Virgin Mary and other saints, including a huge statue of Jesus Christ nailed on the wooden cross. They also tore and burned pages of the Bible and photographs of Pope Francis at the Cathedral’s altar.

The militants destroyed and burned the Credence Table, Tabernacle, Ambo and Presider’s Chair while chanting “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great” before retreating away from the church. They also abducted its priest Father Chito Suganob along with other church workers who were eventually freed after four months in captivity. The video lasted about 1 minute and 45 seconds and also appeared on the IS website.

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