Nigerian forces track down gunmen who killed 50 at church | national news

OWO, Nigeria (AP) — The gunmen who killed 50 people at a Catholic church in southwestern Nigeria opened fire on worshipers inside and outside the building in a coordinated attack before escape, authorities and witnesses said Monday.

Although Nigerian security forces have yet to identify the perpetrators of Sunday’s attack on St. Francis Church in the town of Owo in the relatively peaceful Ondo state, analysts have suggested that They came from elsewhere in this West African country, plagued by violence from various armed groups. , kidnappers and extremists.

No one has claimed responsibility for the church killings, in which children were among the dead and the gunmen used some kind of explosive. Dozens of people were injured, although an exact number was not released by overstretched hospital staff.

“The attack is undoubtedly terrorist in nature, and the scale and brutality suggest it was carefully planned rather than impulsive,” said Eric Humphery-Smith, senior Africa analyst at the firm. Verisk Maplecroft Risk Intelligence.

State Police Commissioner Oyeyemi Oyediran said security forces, including the military, pursued the attackers, “but unfortunately we were unable to catch them”.

Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous country with 206 million people, has been grappling for more than a decade with an insurgency in the northeast by Islamic extremist rebels Boko Haram and its offshoot, the province of the Islamic State in West Africa. The extremists, who have killed more than 35,000 people according to a UN tally, are fighting to establish Sharia law and to stop Western education.

Ondo, however, has long been considered one of the safest states in the country.

Sunday Adewale, who works in the local chief’s palace, said the gunmen had used the element of surprise to their advantage.

“Everyone felt relaxed and went to church,” he said. “Within 30 minutes they did what they wanted and left.”

The attack came as worshipers celebrated the Feast of Pentecost, an important Catholic holiday after Easter. Bishop Jude Arogundade said some gunmen entered the church while others stayed outside to shoot anyone who ran away.

Steven Omotayo, who lives nearby, heard the gunshots and rushed to the scene.

“I saw a lot of corpses – young and old, even children,” he said. “People came in and started shooting from the door.”

He said the church had three entrances and the main entrance would have been locked making it difficult for many to escape.

“They were just shooting. If they see someone trying to escape or get up, they will just shoot the person,” he said. “Everyone standing was pelted with bullets.”

Reverend Vincent Anadi, who was absent from his church at the time, said the gunmen also set off some sort of explosive or grenade.

He said he was returning to the church when he saw people chaotically fleeing, including two altar servers he knew.

They “stopped me and said, ‘Father, father, father, stop, stop! Don’t go to the parish. They kill people in the parish! Anadi says.

Many Nigerians have expressed shock and anger over the attack in Owo, a small town of traders and government workers located 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Ondo state capital, Akure . The central location of the church has raised questions about how the gunmen got there unnoticed.

Rahaman Yusuf said many people tried to find out the fate of their relatives after the attack. “Some came only to find they were dead,” he said, adding that they also went to hospitals to see if their relatives were among the injured.

Federal Medical Center workers in Owo struggled to treat dozens of people injured in the attack. The Medical Association of Nigeria has asked all available doctors in the area to help.

Some of the injured were in “very bad condition” and needed surgery, according to a doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

“I treated a good number of injured people, but what I saw yesterday was far beyond anything I’ve seen before in my life,” the doctor said. “This calamity has affected all age groups, from toddlers to the elderly.”

Blood stocks at the hospital ran out and an appeal was launched, the doctor added.

Mahamat Saleh Annadif, head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, described the incident as a “barbaric terrorist attack” and said he hopes that “the perpetrators of this horrible terrorist act against a church will be quickly apprehended and brought to justice”. .”

Asadu reported from Abuja, Nigeria

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