Police recover explosives after massacre at Nigerian Catholic church
At least 50 people, including children, were killed, according to media reports, in the attack on St Francis Catholic Church in the town of Owo, which took place during Sunday mass as worshipers celebrated the Christian feast of Pentecost.
Police, who have not yet released a toll, said they recovered unexploded improvised explosive devices and AK-47 ammunition shells.
“Some of the gunmen disguised as congregants, while other gunmen who had positioned themselves around the church premises from different directions, fired into the church,” the national police spokesman said. , Olumuyiwa Adejobi, in a statement.
He said a vehicle used by the attackers to escape had been recovered. Its owner was taking part in the investigations.
Inside the church, streaks of blood on the floors and walls, a broken lectern and pew, debris of plaster and abandoned objects, including shoes and a well-laminated Bible covered in shards of glass , bear witness to the intensity of the violence.
“Immediately they came in and started shooting everywhere, so many people,” said Alex Michael, who was shot in the leg as he protected his children by hiding them under chairs. He looked dazed as he sat on his hospital bed.
Other survivors had their limbs wrapped in bloodstained bandages. A man writhed and moaned on his bed while a woman cried as she kissed her brother. A 15-year-old victim lay silently with a drop in her hand.
Dr Samuel Aluko, a clerk at the hospital, said 27 adult victims were receiving treatment for a wide range of injuries, some of which were life-threatening. A woman lost both her legs.
Medical director Dr Ahmed Lasu said 13 children were rushed to hospital. Two were dead on arrival.
Owo is located in Ondo State in southwestern Nigeria, a part of the country that is not prone to violent religious conflict. Authorities have said nothing about the identity or motive of the attackers.
Pope Francis and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari were among those who expressed horror at the attack.
Ondo State Governor Arakunrin Akeredolu on Monday ordered the state flags to be flown at half-mast for seven days.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu, frontrunners in the ruling party’s primaries to select its presidential candidate for next year, both visited the church.
Many stores in the city remained closed. Security forces were in the streets and helicopters passed overhead.
Southwestern Nigeria is home to the Yoruba ethnic group, which is roughly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. The two communities live peacefully side by side.
A resident of Owo said some local people blamed the church massacre on members of the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group, who are predominantly Muslim and live mainly in northern Nigeria, with communities in other areas.
Neither the police nor state authorities have charged any group.
There have been a growing number of outbreaks of violence in recent years between Fulani herders seeking land to graze their cattle and farmers from other ethnic groups seeking to protect their land.
In a separate incident, the Catholic priest, Father Christopher Itopa Onotu, was abducted over the weekend from his rectory in the town of Obangende in Kogi state, which neighbors Ondo to the north, said the Catholic Diocese of Lokoja.
(Additional reporting by Fikayo Owoeye and Camillus Eboh; Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Rosalba O’Brien)
By Temilade Adelaja and Seun Sanni