A group of unidentified men, suspected of being ethnic Fulani terrorists, fired gunshots and explosives at a crowded Catholic church in Ondo State, southwestern Nigeria , during mass on Sunday, killing at least 50 people, according to Nigeria. Avant-garde newspaper reported Monday.
The attack took place at St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, a town in Ondo State, around noon on June 5. Reuters cited testimony from local doctors that at least 50 people, including women and children, were killed in the massacre. Avant-garde revealed on June 6 that some of the victims were pregnant women.
“The gunmen invaded the religious premises with explosives which they detonated before opening live ammunition on the members while the religious service was in progress,” said Olayemi Adeyemi, a lawmaker representing the constituency of Owo at the Ondo State Assembly. Avant-garde June 5.
“Residents around the church premises saw the attackers who were on the run after unleashing the horrific act on the church. They were armed shepherds of Fulani origin,” the lawmaker said.
“The attack was a retaliatory attempt to send a message to [Ondo State] Governor Rotimi Akeredolu who chased violent Fulani pastoralists from the area,” Adeyemi alleged.
Avant-garde interviewed survivors and eyewitnesses to the attack. An unnamed source told the newspaper that the gunmen, believed to number four or five, disguised themselves as worshipers before ambushing the church. Doctors in Owo told Reuters anonymously on Monday that blood donations were needed at local hospitals to help treat injured victims of the attack.
“[Nigerian] President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack, calling it “heinous”, and the Vatican said Pope Francis was praying for the victims who were “painfully struck in a moment of celebration”, Reuters reported on 6 June.
President Buhari hails from the predominantly Muslim Fulani ethnic tribe. The leader, who is a practicing Muslim, has been criticized by observers both in Nigeria and abroad for apparently failing to implement effective policies to deter anti-Christian attacks by Fulani jihadists. Militant members of the Fulani tribe are often referred to as “cattle herders” due to their predominantly nomadic lifestyle. The terrorist members of the tribe are, in fact, jihadists who massacre Christian villages across Nigeria in targeted raids.
Nigeria’s Islamic insurgency is not limited to Fulani attacks. The West African nation has been home to the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram since around 2009. The group is based in northeastern Nigeria, but has expanded its territory to more central parts of the country in recent years, including around the national capital. from Abuja.
Nigeria’s population is split roughly 50-50 between Muslims and Christians, with Muslims being a slight majority nationally. The country’s Christians mainly reside in the south, while most of its Muslims live in northern Nigeria.