By CHINEDU ASADU – Associated Press
ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Gunmen opened fire on worshipers and detonated explosives at a Catholic church in southwestern Nigeria on Sunday, killing dozens, state lawmakers said.
The attackers targeted St. Francis Catholic Church in Ondo state just as worshipers were gathering on Pentecost Sunday, lawmaker Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole said. Among the dead were many children, he said.
The presiding priest was also kidnapped, said Adelegbe Timileyin, who represents Owo region in Nigeria’s lower legislative house.
“Our hearts are heavy,” Ondo Governor Rotimi Akeredolu tweeted on Sunday. “Our peace and tranquility have been attacked by the enemies of the people.”
Authorities did not immediately release an official death toll. Timileyin said at least 50 people were killed, although others have put the figure. Videos appearing to be from the scene of the attack showed church worshipers lying in pools of blood as people around them wept.
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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said that “only demons from the lower region could have conceived and carried out such a despicable act”, according to a statement from his spokesperson.
“No matter what, this country will never yield to the wicked and the wicked, and the darkness will never triumph over the light. Nigeria will win in the end,” said Buhari, who was elected after vowing to end Nigeria’s protracted security crisis.
In Rome, Pope Francis responded to the announcement of the attack.
“The Pope has learned of the attack on the church in Ondo, Nigeria, and the death of dozens of faithful, including many children, during the celebration of Pentecost. While the details are clarified, Pope Francis pray for the victims and the country, painfully affected in a moment of celebration, and entrust them both to the Lord so that he sends his spirit to console them,” the pope said in a statement published by the press office. of the Vatican.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack on the church. While much of Nigeria is struggling with security issues, Ondo is widely known as one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria. The state, however, has been caught up in an escalating violent conflict between farmers and herders.
Nigerian security forces did not immediately respond to questions about how the attack happened or if there are any leads to suspects. Owo is about 345 kilometers (215 miles) east of Lagos.
“In the history of Owo, we have never experienced such a horrible incident,” lawmaker Oluwole said. “It’s too much.”
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