At least 12 people are dead in Nigeria following a stampede by hundreds of worshippers trying to escape armed gunmen who disrupted a weekly prayer vigil in the eastern city of Enugu.

Nigerian newspapers and international news agencies quoted police and witnesses Saturday, who said the incident occurred late Thursday at a prayer meeting organized by the Roman Catholic Diocese.

Pandemonium broke out when the armed gang stormed the religious service.

Police Commissioner Idris Mohammed said that 12 people had been confirmed dead and authorities were investigating reports of two other deaths.

The commissioner told Reuters news agency that there were no gunshot wounds on the bodies that were inspected, implying that the victims may have died of suffocation or were trampled to death.

News reports suggest that the unidentified gunmen were trying to harm the leader of the prayer vigil, Ejike Mbaka, a controversial priest who also is being sought by local authorities.

No further details of the incident were released.

Earlier this year, several people were trampled to death when a crowd tried to push its way into a religious service led by the charismatic German evangelical preacher Reinhard Bonnke.