Gunmen using explosives killed at least 21 people, including children, in an attack on a Catholic church in southwest Nigeria on Sunday in violence that drew widespread international condemnation.
The bloodshed at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo town during a service was a rare assault in Nigeria’s usually safer southwest and shocked a country grown used to jihadist attacks and mass kidnappings in the north.
Gunmen hid among the worshipers inside the church and also opened fire on the congregation through the windows from outside.
Fragments of explosives and three unexploded improvised devices were found at the scene.
National Emergency Management Agency local representative Olanrewaju Kadiri said 22 people were killed, including several children, with another 40 people wounded.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo arrived on Monday to visit some of the wounded in Owo where he said perpetrators “will pay for this heinous” attack.
“I ran back to the church and I saw my two children and we brought them here to the federal medical centre,” Nzeadu Paulinus, a local resident who was away from the church when the shooting started and whose two children were wounded.
One witness told AFP he saw at least five gunmen on the church premises.
The state government declared a seven-day mourning period for the victims, and ordered the national flag to be flown at half-mast in Ondo.
Pope Francis was “deeply saddened” by the “horrible attack”, his number two, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin wrote in a telegram to the bishop of Ondo.
President Muhammadu Buhari condemned Sunday’s “heinous killing of worshippers”, while the UN Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, spoke of a “barbaric terrorist attack”.
But large-scale attacks in Nigeria’s southwest are relatively rare, although kidnappings for ransom have become increasingly common.
The attack came a day before the ruling APC party started primaries for its candidate in the 2023 election to replace Buhari, a former army commander who steps down after two terms in office.
As well as jihadists and criminal gangs known locally as bandits, Nigeria’s security forces are also dealing with separatist agitation in the southeast.
Originally published as Gun attack on church in southwest Nigeria leaves 21 dead