Armed assailants attacked a Catholic church in southwest Nigeria on Sunday with gunfire and explosives, leaving at least 50 people dead.
The unidentified gunmen targeted the St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo state during a mass, lawmaker Ogunmolasuyi Oluwhole said, adding there were children and women among the dead.
The attackers shot at people outside and inside the church building, killing and injuring worshippers, said police spokesperson for Ondo state, Funmilayo Ibukun Odunlami.
Odunlami did not specify the casualty toll but said the police were investigating the cause of the attack.
Adelegbe Timileyin, who represents the Owo area in Nigeria’s lower legislative chamber, said at least 50 people had been killed in the gruesome attack, though others put the figure higher.
The assailants — whose motives and affiliation remain unknown — also abducted the church’s presiding priest, Timileyin said.
Videos appearing to be from the scene of the attack showed chaos and commotion at the church and worshippers lying in pools of blood.
Ondo state Governor Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who visited the scene of the attack, described the deadly incident as “a great massacre” that should not be allowed to happen again.
“I am deeply saddened by the unprovoked attack and killing of innocent people of Owo, worshiping at the St. Francis Catholic Church, today,” he said on Twitter, adding that “the vile and satanic attack is a calculated assault on the peace-loving people of the Owo Kingdom who have enjoyed relative peace over the years.”
He vowed to “commit every available resource to hunt down these assailants and make them pay.”
“It is so sad that while the Holy Mass was going on, unknown gunmen attacked St Francis Catholic Church…leaving many feared dead and many others injured and the Church violated,” said Nigeria’s Catholic Church spokesman Reverend Augustine Ikwu, adding that the church’s bishop and priests had escaped unharmed.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack as “heinous,” saying “only fiends from the nether region could have conceived and carried out such dastardly act,” his spokesman said.
“No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome the light. Nigeria will eventually win,” said Buhari, who rose to power after vowing to end Nigeria’s never-ending security crisis.
The Vatican also issued a statement saying that Pope Francis was praying for the victims who had been “painfully stricken in a moment of celebration.”
“The pope has learned of the attack on the church in Ondo, Nigeria and the deaths of dozens of worshippers, many children, during the celebration of Pentecost,” said a statement issued by the Vatican press office.
“While the details are being clarified, 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.”
The development came just one week after a stampede at a church charity event in southern Nigeria’s Port Harcourt city killed more than 30 people.
The annual “Shop For Free” event last week was organized by the Kings Assembly Pentecostal Church in Rivers State to help the millions of Nigerians who live in poverty.
While much of Nigeria has struggled with security issues, Ondo is widely considered one of the peaceful states in the country.
The state, however, has been caught in a violent conflict between farmers and herders.
Nigeria’s security forces have not yet commented on how the attack took place or if there were any leads about suspects. Owo is about 215 miles east of Lagos.