Nigerian authorities hunt for gunmen who killed 50 at church

The gunmen who killed at least 50 individuals at a Catholic church in southwestern Nigeria opened hearth on worshippers each inside and out of doors the constructing in a coordinated assault earlier than escaping the scene, authorities and witnesses mentioned Monday.

Although Nigerian safety forces haven’t but recognized who carried out Sunday’s assault on St. Francis Church within the city of Owo within the comparatively peaceable Ondo state, analysts advised they got here from elsewhere within the West African nation, which is suffering from violence from numerous armed teams, kidnappers and extremists.

No one has claimed duty for the church killings, by which youngsters had been among the many lifeless and the gunmen detonated some form of explosive, in response to witnesses. A state lawmaker from the area mentioned the demise toll was at least 50, and scores of individuals had been wounded, though a precise quantity was not launched by overwhelmed hospital staff.

A police crime scene tape is seen in front of St. Francis Catholic Church where gunmen attacked worshippers during a Sunday mass service in Owo
A police crime scene tape is seen in entrance of St. Francis Catholic Church the place gunmen attacked worshippers throughout a Sunday mass service in Owo, Ondo, Nigeria, June 6, 2022.


“The attack is undoubtedly terrorist in nature, and the scale and brutality suggests it was carefully planned rather than impulsive,” mentioned Eric Humphery-Smith, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft danger intelligence company, in an interview with The Associated Press.

State Police Commissioner Oyeyemi Oyediran mentioned safety forces, together with the army, pursued the attackers, “but unfortunately, we could not catch up with them.”

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and different authorities officers visited the church Monday. A day earlier, he pledged that “we will keep standing against evil, and Nigeria will win.”

Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous nation with 206 million individuals, has grappled for over a decade with an insurgency within the northeast by Islamic extremist rebels of Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State West Africa Province. The extremists, who have killed greater than 35,000 individuals by a U.N. depend, are combating to determine Shariah regulation and to cease Western schooling.

Ondo, nevertheless, has lengthy been thought of one of many safer states within the nation.

Sunday Adewale, who works within the palace of the native chief, mentioned the gunmen used the factor of shock to their benefit.

“Everybody felt relaxed and had gone to church,” he mentioned. “Within 30 minutes, they did what they wanted and went away.”

The assault got here as worshippers had been celebrating the feast of Pentecost, an essential Catholic post-Easter vacation. Bishop Jude Arogundade mentioned some gunmen entered the church whereas others stayed exterior to shoot anybody who fled.

Nigeria Church Attack
A view of the St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo Nigeria, Sunday, June 5, 2022. 

Rahaman A Yusuf / AP

The priest celebrating the Mass was giving the blessing to finish the service when the attackers got here in and opened hearth, mentioned John Nwovo, 35, who added that he narrowly escaped along with his 5 youngsters by operating and hiding within the church’s vestry, together with greater than 30 individuals.

“We had to pack ourselves inside that place to take refuge from the storm,” he informed AP.

After rising from hiding, Nwovo mentioned they noticed “so many” our bodies mendacity in their very own blood.

Florence Obi mentioned her sister, Stella Nzelu, fled the church after the taking pictures and the explosion, solely to run into one of many exterior gunmen, “who shot her in the stomach at close range.” Obi mentioned her sister underwent surgical procedure to take away the bullet and “she is feeling better now.”

Steven Omotayo, who lives close by, heard the gunshots and rushed to the scene.

“I saw a lot of dead bodies — both young and old, even children,” he mentioned. “The people came in and started shooting from the gate.”

He mentioned the church has three entrances and the primary entrance was mentioned to have been locked, making it tough for many to flee.

“They were just shooting. If they see anyone trying to escape or stand up, they will just shoot the person,” he mentioned. “Everybody standing was bombarded with bullets.”

The Rev. Vincent Anadi, who was away from his church at the time, mentioned the gunmen additionally set off some form of explosive or grenade.

He mentioned he was making his approach again to the church when he noticed individuals operating away chaotically, together with two altar servers that he knew.

They “stopped me and said, ‘Father, father, father, stop, stop! Don’t go to the parish. They are killing people in the parish!'” Anadi recounted.

Many Nigerians expressed shock and anger over the assault in Owo, a small city of merchants and authorities staff situated 31 miles from the Ondo state capital of Akure. The central location of the church raised questions as to how the gunmen acquired there unnoticed.

Nigeria Church Attack
Nigerian troopers safe the world exterior of the St. Francis Catholic church within the city of Owo, Nigeria, Monday, June 6, 2022 a day after an assault that focused worshipers. 

Sunday Alamba / AP

Rahaman Yusuf mentioned many individuals tried to search out out the destiny of their family after the assault. “Some came only to realize they are dead,” he mentioned, including that in addition they went to hospitals to see if their family members had been among the many wounded.

Olalekan Agboola was in Lagos when he discovered his 70-year-old mom, Caroline, was killed, and he rushed to Ondo. In a phone interview from the city, he grew emotional as he recalled speaking to her by cellphone on Saturday and the way “she used to call us and pray for us.”

Workers at the Federal Medical Center in Owo struggled to deal with scores of wounded from the assault. The Nigeria Medical Association directed all obtainable medical doctors within the area to assist.

Some of the wounded had been in a “very bad state” and wanted surgical procedure, in response to a physician there who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of he was not licensed to speak to journalists.

“I have attended to a good number of casualties, but what I saw yesterday was far beyond whatever I have seen before in my life,” the physician mentioned. “This calamity befell all age grades, from toddlers to the old ones.”

Blood provides at the hospital ran out, and a plea for extra has gone out, the physician added.

Mahamat Saleh Annadif, head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, mentioned he hopes “the perpetrators of this horrific terrorist act against a church will be swiftly apprehended and brought to justice.”

Pope Francis decried “this act of unspeakable violence” in a condolence telegram despatched by the Vatican’s secretary of state on his behalf to the Ondo bishop.

“His Holiness prays for the conversion of those blinded by hatred and violence so that they will choose instead the path of peace and righteousness,” it mentioned.

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