By Neelam Rahim
According to a hospital doctor and media reports, shooters attacked a Catholic church in southwest Nigeria during mass on Sunday, killing at least 50 people, including women and children.
Worshippers attended Pentecost Sunday Mass when gunfire erupted at the St. Francis Catholic Church in Ondo state. Bishop Jude Arogundade of the Ondo Diocese said, “As attackers opened fire on worshippers inside, other gunmen waited outside to kill those who tried to flee.”
State police spokeswoman Ibukun Odunlami said the gunmen also attacked the church with explosives, leaving an unknown number of worshippers dead.
The motives and the exact death toll were not immediately clear. Still, President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the “heinous killing of worshippers”.
No one has claimed responsibility for the massacre, and local authorities said the gunmen had evaded capture.
Pope Francis said in a statement he had learned of the “death of dozens of faithful”, many children, during the celebration of the Christian holiday of the Pentecost.
“While the details of the incident are being clarified, Pope Francis prays for the victims and the country,” he said.
Ondo state Governor Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who visited the attack scene and injured persons in the hospital, described Sunday’s incident as “a great massacre” that should not be allowed to happen again.
Hospital workers struggled to treat scores of wounded following the attack. The Nigeria Medical Association in Ondo state directed all available doctors to head to the hospitals to offer any help to dozens of critically wounded.
“At a stage, even the blood got exhausted at our blood bank. We had to be pleading for blood,” said a doctor at the Federal Medical Center in Owo, who spoke on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
“Even as a physician, I have attended to many casualties, but what I saw yesterday was far beyond whatever I have seen before in my life and in practice.”
State Police Commissioner Oyeyemi Oyediran said security forces were “on top of the situation.”
“A team pursued the assailants along with the military, but unfortunately, we could not catch up with them,” he said.
Nigeria is battling an Islamist insurgency in the northeast and armed gangs who carry out attacks and kidnappings for ransom, mainly in the northwest.
In the southwest, attacks such as this are rare.
© Agence France-Presse