June 5 (UPI) — Gunmen on motorcycles swarmed a church in Nigeria on Sunday, and began shooting their weapons and throwing St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church dynamite, killing dozens of worshippers.
At least 40 people including women and children were killed at the church in the city of Owo, Nigerian newspaper Punch reported. The city is located in the state of Ondo in southern Nigeria.
United Press International has not been able to verify the number of victims.
“A lot of casualties have been brought here but I can count 12 now that had passed away but we are still trying to save the lives of the remaining,” a nurse who spoke to Punch on the condition of anonymity said.
Adeyemi Olayemi, a member of the state legislature, described the killing as “barbaric and satanic” and urged local residents “to be vigilant and security conscious” in a statement posted to Facebook.
“Kidnappers invaded the church to kidnap a bishop but worshippers resisted them from carrying out their illicit operation which transfigured into the open fire and gory atmosphere by the kidnappers,” Olayemi said in the statement, citing a “veritable source.”
“Those kidnappers will be fished out and not go unpunished,” he said.
Horrific photos and videos posted to social media appeared to show the bodies of the victims, including children, in pools of blood among the pews inside the church.
Ondo State Gov. Arakunrin Akeredolu said in a statement to Twitter that he was “deeply saddened by the unprovoked attack and killing of innocent people.”
“The vile and satanic attack is a calculated assault on the peace-loving people of Owo Kingdom who have enjoyed relative peace over the years,” he said.
“It is a black Sunday in Owo. Our hearts are heavy. Our peace and tranquility have been attacked by the enemies of the people. This is a personal loss, an attack on our dear state.”
Akeredolu said that the government will “commit every available resource to hunt down these assailants and make them pay.”
“We shall never bow to the machinations of heartless elements in our resolves to rid our state of criminals,” Akeredolu said.
“I commiserate with my people in Owo, particularly families of the those who lost their lives to this ugly and unfortunate attack.”
The Catholic Diocese of Ondo said in a statement that the “identity of the perpetrators remains unknown while the situation has left the community devastated.” The church clarified that no priests or parishioners were kidnapped.