Presumed jihadists stormed a Catholic church in southwest Nigeria Sunday and opened fire on worshipers, killing at least 50 and wounding dozens more.
The attack on St. Francis Catholic Church in the town of Owo in Ondo State took place in the morning when the faithful had gathered for Mass to celebrate Pentecost, a commemoration of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles after Christ’s ascension into heaven.
“We were about to round off service. I had even asked people to start leaving, that was how we started hearing gunshots from different angles,” said Father Andrew Abayomi, one of the priests at St. Francis Church.
“We hid inside the church but some people had left when the attack happened. We locked ourselves in the church for 20 minutes. When we heard that they had left, we opened the church and rushed victims to the hospital,” the priest said.
In response to the attack, Pope Francis offered his condolences and prayers “for the victims and for the country.”
An initial report from State police spokeswoman Ibukun Odunlami suggested the militants also set off explosives during the attack. While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the targeting of Christians strongly suggests Islamic extremists were behind the assault.
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Ondo state Governor Rotimi Akeredolu called the incident a “vile and satanic attack” on innocent people and appealed for calm, urging people not to take the law into their own hands.
“The assailants will be hunted down and they will pay for their crimes,” he said in a statement on social media.
“It is a black Sunday in Owo. Our hearts are heavy. Our peace and tranquility have been attacked by the enemies of the people. This is a personal loss, an attack on our dear state,” he declared.
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The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Ondo State Chapter strongly condemned the violence, declaring it is “very sad that human lives mean very little to those whose business it is to provide security for lives and properties in our country.”
We urge the security agencies “to up their game to be more proactive than allowing this kind of calamity to strike before promises of tracking down the culprits,” the PDP said, adding that it is “unacceptable for worshippers to be mowed down in a church.”
“The perpetrators must certainly be animals just in human skin. It is sacrilegious,” the group said.