Nigeria church attack: What, where and why?

Gunmen with explosives stormed St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo town in Ondo State and opened fire, killing at least 50 people.

Gunmen attacked a Catholic church in Nigeria during mass on Sunday, killing at least 50 people including women and children, according to local reports.

Here is what we know so far:

What happened?

  • At about 11:30 am [10:30GMT] on Sunday, gunmen with explosives stormed a Catholic church and opened fire in southern Nigeria.
  • According to police authorities, the assailants approached the church during a service and started shooting from outside the church, while four others shot directly into the church. They also detonated explosives.
  • Doctors, volunteers and authorities said the death toll was at least 50. Many children were among the dead.
  • A doctor speaking anonymously told Reuters that bodies were brought to two hospitals in the town after the attack. He also said there was a need for blood donations to treat the injured.
  • Videos, reportedly from the scene of the attack, showed church worshippers lying in pools of blood while people wailed around them.
  • It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.

Where did it happen?

  • The violence took place at St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo town in Ondo State, Nigeria, as worshippers met on Pentecost Sunday. Owo is about 345 kilometres (215 miles) east of Lagos.
(Al Jazeera)

What is the latest on the ground?

  • Authorities say they have ordered the immediate deployment of armed and specialised police to the area “to restore normalcy and fortify the entire community”.
  • Police in Ondo State said an “anti-bomb squad” has been deployed to the scene while efforts are being intensified to arrest the attackers.
  • Ondo state Governor Rotimi Akeredolu has told people “don’t take laws into your hands”.

Why did it happen?

  •  No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet.
  • Parts of Nigeria are struggling with security issues but Ondo is widely known as one of Nigeria’s most peaceful states. The state, though, has been caught up in an increasingly violent conflict between farmers and nomadic herders.
  • Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Abuja, said similar attacks have taken place in the northern and central parts of Nigeria for a long time now carried out by armed groups “called the bandits”.
  • “It is not clear whether these armed groups have infiltrated the southwest, and carried out the attack … but we know there have been several attacks between local farmers and cattle herders in that area, at some point the states in the region have set up their own vigilantes and chase out these cattle herders,” Idris said.
  • In Nigeria, pastoral land scarcity compounded by increasing urbanisation has forced herders on to farmlands and restricted areas, such as national parks and conserved forests. This often leads to the destruction of crops and ends up snowballing into a conflict between the herders and local farmers.
  • There have also been unverified reports of groups like Boko Haram and its offshoot the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) setting up sleeper cells in central Nigeria, parts of which border the southwest.
  • In 2012 and 2014, Boko Haram attacked prisons in the central Kogi state, which borders the capital, Abuja, and nine other states, including Ondo.
  • On Sunday, Nigerian newspaper The Cable reported that ISWAP claimed responsibility for an attack that left two people dead after an explosion last week during a cultural festival in Kogi.

What happens next?

  • According to a statement by Akeredolu, a meeting of commanders of Amotekun, a state-backed regional vigilante has been convened, for joint operations across the southwest.
  • They have also called for flags in Ondo state to be flown at half-mast for seven days, starting from Monday.
  • Security forces say they have ordered a forensic investigation into the attack to investigate the actual or remote causes “and for immediate arrest of the assailants as all hands are [on] deck to forestall any similar attack in any part of the state,” a statement read.

What have been the reactions so far?

  • Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said “only fiends from the nether region could have conceived and carried out such dastardly act,” according to a statement from his spokesman. “No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome light. Nigeria will eventually win,” said Buhari, who was elected after promising to end Nigeria’s prolonged security crisis.

  • Ondo Governor Akeredolu, who visited the scene of the attack and injured people in hospital, described Sunday’s incident as “a great massacre” that should not be allowed to happen again.

  • In Rome, Pope Francis responded to news of the attack. “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. 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 pope said in a statement issued by the Vatican press office.

  • Ondo state Governor Akeredolu said Sunday’s incident was a “vile and satanic attack” and appealed to the security forces to track down the assailants.
  • “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 the Catholic Church spokesman in Nigeria, Reverend Augustine Ikwu. “We turn to God to console the families of those whose lives were lost,” he said.
  • “In the history of Owo, we have never experienced such an ugly incident,” said legislator Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole. “This is too much.”



EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Ondo State governor Rotimi Akeredolu (3rd L) points to blood the stained floor after an attack by gunmen at St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo town, southwest Nigeria on June 5, 2022. - Gunmen with explosives stormed a Catholic church and opened fire in southwest Nigeria on June 5, killing "many" worshippers and wounding others, the government and police said. The violence at St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo town in Ondo State erupted during the morning service in a rare attack in the southwest of Nigeria, where jihadists and criminal gangs operate in other regions. (Photo by AFP)
Ondo state governor Akeredolu (in grey) points to the blood-stained floor after an attack by gunmen at St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo town, southwest Nigeria [AFP]


A view of the St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo Nigeria, Sunday, June 5, 2022. Lawmakers in southwestern Nigeria say more than 50 people are feared dead after gunmen opened fire and detonated explosives at a church. Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole with the Ondo State House of Assembly said the gunmen targeted the St Francis Catholic Church in Ondo state on Sunday morning just as the worshippers gathered for the weekly Mass. (AP Photo/Rahaman A Yusuf)
A view of the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Nigeria [Rahaman A Yusuf/AP]
Victims of the bomb attack during a Catholic mass at St. Francis Catholic church receive treatment at St. Louis Catholic Hospital, in Owo, Nigeria, June 5, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Victims of the bombing during a Catholic mass at St Francis Xavier Catholic church receive treatment at St Louis Catholic Hospital, in Owo [Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies