During mass on Sunday, gunmen opened fire on a Catholic church in Ondo state, Nigeria, killing more than 50 people in a “satanic attack,” according to local officials and volunteers.
According to local officials, the attackers targeted the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in the town of Owo as parishioners gathered on Pentecost Sunday.
According to local media, they gunned down parishioners and detonated an explosive device.
At least 50 people have died, according to doctors, local officials, and volunteers who are assisting the injured, with dozens more being treated for injuries in overburdened local hospitals.
Children were among the dead, according to state politician Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole. Churchgoers were seen laying in pools of blood in videos that appeared to be from the scene of the attack.
On Sunday, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, the governor of Ondo state, condemned the “vile and diabolical attack” and promised to find the perpetrators.
In a statement, Rev Augustine Ikwu, secretary of the Catholic Church in Ondo, said the attack had “devastated the community.”
He said, “We look to God to console the families of those who have lost their lives.”
The incident was also condemned by Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, whose government has been severely chastised for supervising a steep spike in insecurity across the country.
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Gun men entered St Francis catholic Church Owo Ondo State Nigeria, bombed & fired several shots at the congregation that lead to many deaths
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“This country will never yield to bad and wicked individuals, and darkness will never triumph over light,” he declared.
At least 50 dead have been transferred to the main government hospital in Owo and to St Louis Catholic hospital, according to a doctor at a hospital in the south-western town of Owo.
Sunday Ajibola, a volunteer at one of the town’s hospitals, said he observed “no less than 50 dead bodies” and several others being treated by medics for injuries caused by gunshots and explosives. Blood was in short supply at local hospitals, he said.
According to Adeyemi Olayemi, a politician from Ondo, the attack was carried out by ethnic Fulani terrorists, also known as bandits, who have carried out a series of attacks, mostly in northern Nigeria but also in other regions of the country.
The gangs arose from a long-running struggle between pastoralists and local populations over land access and encroachments on private farms, and they have carried out mass massacres and kidnappings across the country, taking advantage of a lack of rural security.
The incident, according to Olayemi, was likely in reprisal for the state government’s recent limits on grazing in Ondo, including in forests where the assailants had carried out attacks. Following an increase in kidnappings in the state, the limitations were enacted.
“Since this administration drove ranchers out of our forests, we have had better security,” Olayemi stated. “This is a retaliatory attack intended to send the governor a terrible message.”