Jun 6, 2022 - World

Nigeria church attack witnesses say worshippers were "bombarded with bullets"

- 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,
Officials point to the blood-stained floor after an attack by gunmen at St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo town. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Survivors of Sunday's deadly attack on a packed Catholic church in southwestern Nigeria described scenes of chaos and horror as gunmen began shooting at worshippers who had gathered for mass celebrating the feast of Pentecost.

State of play: At least 50 people, including children, were killed in the attack on St. Francis Catholic Church in the town of Owo, according to local and international media reports, citing witnesses, hospital staff and a lawmaker. Police have not released an official death toll. Several others were injured.

The big picture: No group has claimed responsibility for the attack and the motive remains unclear.

  • Southwestern Nigeria, including Ondo state where Owa is located, has not suffered from the violence over religion seen in states in the northeast, where Islamist extremist groups, including Boko Haram, have waged a bloody insurgency for years, per Reuters.

Authorities are currently searching for the attackers, who police said entered the church carrying guns and explosives and began firing on worshippers inside and outside of the church.

  • "Some of the gunmen disguised as congregants, while other armed men who had positioned themselves around the church premises from different directions, fired into the church," national police spokesperson Olumuyiwa Adejobi said in a statement Monday. Three unexploded improvised explosive devices and AK-47 ammunition shells were found, according to police.
  • The attackers fled the scene after stealing a car, which has since been recovered, Adejobi said.

What they're saying: "Immediately they entered and started firing everywhere, so many people," Alex Michael, who suffered a gunshot wound to the leg, told Reuters.

  • A 20-year-old survivor named Andrew told Al Jazeera he ran to his mother and "held her by the hands and [was] screaming, ‘Keep your head down!’”
  • “Between the next 15 to 20 minutes, the gunshots just would not stop. It just kept going and going," he added. “[She] was saying her last prayer and I was just taking deep breaths, getting ready for my own shot."
  • Steven Omotayo, who lives nearby and rushed to the scene when he heard gunshots, told AP that the attackers were "just shooting."
  • "If they see anyone trying to escape or stand up, they will just shoot the person,” he said. “Everybody standing was bombarded with bullets.”

Pope Francis and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari were among those who expressed outrage after the attack.

  • “No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome light. Nigeria will eventually win,” Buhari said in a statement late Sunday.
  • “Pope Francis prays for the victims and the country, painfully affected at a time of celebration, and entrusts them both to the Lord so that he may send his spirit to console them," a statement issued by the Vatican on Sunday read.
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