Infants among 22 worshipers killed in Nigeria church attack

A young woman is treated in a hospital bed
A victim of the attack at St. Francis Catholic Church is treated at St. Louis Catholic Hospital in Owo, Nigeria, on Monday.
(Sunday Alamba / Associated Press)

Two infants are among at least 22 worshipers killed in an attack on a church in southwestern Nigeria that has shocked the West African nation, an emergency official told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

In addition to those killed, about 50 people wounded are being treated in hospitals after the attack at the St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo town in Ondo state, said Kadiri Olanrewaju, who is the head of Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Services in Ondo.

The exact number of dead is not known, as some of those killed were taken away by family members for private burials, residents said.


“It is only those at the hospital morgue that I am giving you, not the ones in the church taken home for burial. I don’t have that record,” Olanrewaju said.

Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole and Adelegbe Timileyin, who represent Owo in the state and federal legislative houses, told the AP earlier that more than 50 were killed in the attack.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 206 million people, has grappled for more than a decade with an insurgency in the northeast by the Islamic extremist rebels of Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State West Africa Province, known as ISWAP.

The country now is confronted by growing insecurity problems as separatists and pirates are blamed for attacks in the country’s south and armed groups frequently launch deadly attacks in the northwest.

Before the church attack, Ondo had been considered one of Nigeria’s most peaceful states. But now Owo, a small town of traders and government workers about 30 miles from the state capital of Akure, is reeling from the violence of the church attack.

Schools and public gathering spots remained closed on Tuesday and many people stayed at home, residents said.

The Ondo State Police Command has not made any arrests yet, nor has it identified any suspects, but there are believed to be at least five attackers, a spokeswoman said.

“We can only confirm that explosives were used and we found three undetonated IEDs at the scene,” the police spokeswoman, Odunlami Funmilayo, told the AP, referring to improvised explosive devices.

The attackers “sneaked into” the church premises, the police said. Some of them were “disguised as congregants while other armed men, who had positioned themselves around the church premises from different directions, fired into the church,” the police added.

The attackers opened fire on the worshipers just as the Pentecost Mass was ending, survivors said.

“There was no warning, no threat; this place has been peaceful,” said Sunday Adewale, who works in the palace of the local chief. “They just looked for people’s soft spot when people are relaxed.”