At least 50 dead including many children as attackers targeted the St Francis Catholic Church in southwestern Ondo state as worshippers gathered on Sunday.
The violence began as worshippers gathered at the St Francis Catholic Church in Ondo state on Sunday. Among the dead were many children.
Adelegbe Timileyin, who represents the town of Owo where the attack took place, said at least 50 people were killed.
“Our hearts are heavy,” Ondo Governor Rotimi Akeredolu said. “Our peace and tranquility have been attacked by the enemies of the people.”
A doctor at a hospital in Owo said no fewer than 50 bodies had been moved to Owo’s Federal Medical Centre and St Louis Catholic Hospital.
Authorities did not immediately release an official death toll. No group claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack.
Videos appearing to be from the scene of the attack showed church worshippers lying in pools of blood while people around them wailed.
Owo is 345km (215 miles) east of Nigeria’s largest city of Lagos.
“In the history of Owo, we have never experienced such an ugly incident,” said lawmaker Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole. “This is too much.”
‘Vile and satanic’
Akeredolu said he was heading back to the state from the capital Abuja after the “unprovoked attack and killing of innocent people of Owo”.
“We shall commit every available resource to hunt down these assailants and make them pay,” he said in a statement, calling the assault “vile and satanic”.
While much of Nigeria has struggled with security issues, Ondo is widely known as one of the country’s most peaceful states.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the “heinous killing of worshippers”.
“Only fiends from the nether region could have conceived and carried out such dastardly act. No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome light. Nigeria will eventually win,” the president said in a statement.
The Vatican said Pope Francis was praying for the victims of the attack who were “painfully stricken in a moment of celebration”.
State police spokeswoman Ibukun Odunlami said the death toll was still unclear. “It’s still premature to say exactly how many people were killed. But many worshippers lost their lives while others were injured in the attack.”
Africa’s most populous country has witnessed attacks and kidnappings for ransom by armed gangs, mostly in its northwest. Such attacks are rare in southern Nigeria.
The Catholic authority in the state denied the bishop and priests had been kidnapped as reports suggested on social media.
“It is so sad that while the Holy Mass was going on, unknown gunmen attacked St Francis Catholic Church … leaving many feared dead and many others injured and the Church violated,” said Reverend Augustine Ikwu, Catholic Church spokesman in Nigeria.
Ikwu said the bishop and priests from the parish survived the attack unharmed.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES