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Authorities Probe Deadly Nigeria Church Attack  

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Ondo State governor Rotimi Akeredolu (3rd L) points to blood the stained floor after an attack by gunmen at St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo town, southwest Nigeria on June 5, 2022.

Authorities in Nigeria’s Ondo state Monday were investigating who might be responsible for a deadly attack on a Catholic church.

The exact toll from Sunday’s shooting at the St. Francis Catholic Church was unclear. A spokesman for the Ondo state governor’s office told Agence France-Presse that gunmen killed 21 people. Reuters cited a doctor in Ondo saying the number of dead was 50.

Hospitals treated people wounded in the attack, while volunteers launched a blood drive to aid the injured.

Ondo Governor Rotimi Akeredolu vowed to respond to the attack and ordered flags be lowered to honor the victims.

“Those who unleashed this unprovoked terror attack on our people have tested our collective resolves,” Akeredolu tweeted Monday. “We will not be deterred in responding appropriately to this dastardly act.”

The attackers struck as worshippers gathered on Pentecost Sunday, using guns and explosives.

The Rev. Andrew Abayomi, an assistant at St. Francis, described to VOA affiliate Channels TV the moment the attack began.

“It was the close of Mass. I had told people, ‘The Mass has ended.’ During that moment, I had heard loud noise,” he said.

Abayomi said he and other worshippers ran into an adjoining room and quickly locked the door. He said he heard several explosions and tried to make “silent calls” to the parish priest.

“After about 20-plus minutes, I got to know that they had gone. So, that was when we came out. Then I saw, at least with my eyes, I saw two, three persons lying dead already,” he said.

The altar of St. Francis Catholic Church in Ondo state, northwestern Nigeria, after gunmen opened fire on worshippers and detonated explosives, June 5, 2022.
The altar of St. Francis Catholic Church in Ondo state, northwestern Nigeria, after gunmen opened fire on worshippers and detonated explosives, June 5, 2022.

The Vatican said Pope Francis “prays for the victims and for the country, painfully attacked at a time of celebration, and he entrusts everyone to the Lord, that God might send His spirit to console them.”

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack. While much of Nigeria has struggled with security issues, Ondo is widely known as one of Nigeria’s most peaceful states. But it has been experiencing increasing violent conflicts between farmers and herders.

“In the history of Owo, we have never experienced such an ugly incident,” said legislator Oluwole Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole. “This is too much.”

Kabir Adamu, a security risk management and intelligence specialist in Nigeria and the Sahel region, said any number of groups could be responsible. He also noted that, 24 hours after the attack, had still not released any information about who might be responsible.

“The fact that the perpetrators carried out the attack, the fact that they went away almost successfully. The fact that almost 24 hours after the attack … the security agencies have not come out saying in clear terms who was responsible, indicated that, yes, this is another of several such incidents that we've monitored in the country,” he said, referencing other such attacks in the country.

Going forward, Adamu said the government needs to improve “law enforcement so that offenders are arrested and punished for the people, we need to call for more effort by the Nigerian government.”

Christian Association of Nigeria spokesman Bayo Oladeji condemned the attack, saying, “What happened in Owo today is an unprovoked attack on innocent people worshipping God. And to (the) Christian Association of Nigeria, it is condemnable. It is unacceptable. We’re tired of people going to church and being killed.”

Nigeria is currently facing a wave of violence by armed gangs. A week ago, the prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Samuel Kanu-Uche, was kidnapped on his way to the airport in southeastern Abia state.

He was released two days later after the church raised about $240,000 and paid the kidnappers.

VOA Hausa's Alhassan Bala and Olufemi Ojomo of VOA affiliate Channels TV contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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