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Owo Church Attack Kills Dozens of Nigerian Catholics on Pentecost Sunday

ABUJA, Nigeria – Terrorists launched a gun and bomb attack at the end of a Catholic Mass in southwest Nigeria on Sunday, killing an estimated 70 worshipers according to residents and church leaders.

The terrorists attacked the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo state, at about 9 a.m., church leaders and residents told Morning Star News (MSN) in text messages shortly after the attack.

A priest at the church, Andrew Abayomi, told MSN that as the worship service was coming to an end, the terrorists threw explosive devices and shot at worshipers.

“We were in worship Mass when the terrorists attacked us. They shot at the congregation while breaking into the church by throwing improvised explosive devices at the church building,” Abayomi said. “Some of us hid inside the church as they shot randomly at us. This lasted for about 20 minutes before they retreated.”

He said it was difficult to give details about the number killed and injured, as leaders were focusing on transferring the wounded to hospitals.

Among other Owo residents, Loye Owolemi said about 70 worshipers were shot dead and others abducted when terrorists attacked the church service.

“Today is a black day in Owo town in Ondo state, as about 70 Christians were killed during an attack on a Catholic church,” another Owo resident, Augustine Aluko, told MSN. “The Christian victims were killed as they were in worship service.”

The Ondo governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, said it was a “black Sunday” in Owo.

“Our hearts are heavy. Our peace and tranquility have been attacked by the enemies of the people,” said Akeredolu in a press statement. “This is a personal loss, an attack on our dear state. … I am shocked to say the least.

“Nevertheless, we shall commit every available resource to hunt down these assailants and make them pay,” said the governor. “We shall never bow to the machinations of heartless elements in our resolves to rid our state of criminals.”

While no one immediately took responsibility for the assault, predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen were suspected. They have committed kidnappings and killings primarily in northern Nigeria but have been increasingly active in otherwise peaceful Ondo state, prompting the state government to implement recent restrictions on grazing.

Adeyemi Olayemi, a lawmaker in Ondo, told reporters that Fulani terrorists were suspected, likely in retaliation for the grazing restrictions implemented in response to an uptick in kidnappings in the state.

“We have enjoyed improved security since herdsmen were driven away from our forests by this administration,” Olayemi reportedly said. “This is a reprisal attack to send a diabolical message to the governor.”

Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, condemned the attack.

“No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome light,” Buhari said. “Nigeria will eventually win.”

Numbering in the millions across Nigeria and the Sahel, the predominantly Muslim Fulani comprise hundreds of clans of many different lineages who do not hold extremist views. But some Fulani do adhere to radical Islamist ideology, the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom or Belief (APPG) noted in a recent report.

“They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity,” the APPG report states.

Christian leaders in Nigeria have said they believe herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt are inspired by their desire to forcefully take over Christians’ lands and impose Islam as desertification has made it difficult to sustain their herds.

Nigeria led the world in Christians killed for their faith last year at 4,650 (from October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021), up from 3,530 the previous reporting period, according to Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List (WWL) report. The tally of kidnapped Christians was also highest in Nigeria, at more than 2,500, up from 990 the previous reporting period.

Nigeria trailed only China in the number of churches attacked, with 470 cases tallied, according to the report.

On the 2022 WWL ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria jumped to seventh place, its highest ranking ever, from No. 9 the previous year.

First published at Morning Star News

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