OWO, Nigeria -- Gunmen opened fire on worshippers inside and out at a Catholic Church in Southwestern Nigeria in a coordinated attack, witnesses and authorities said Monday.
While Nigerian security forces are yet to identify the attackers of Sunday's attack at St. Francis Church in Owo, relatively peaceful Ondo state on Sunday, analysts suggest they may have come from another part of West Africa, which is plagued with violence by various armed groups and kidnappers.
The church murders in which children died and gunmen used explosives have been denied by anyone.
Eric Humphery Smith, senior Africa analyst for Verisk Maplecroft risk intelligence firm, stated that the attack was undoubtedly terrorist in nature. The scale and brutality of the attack suggest it was planned and not impulsive.
Oyeyemi Oyediran, the State Police Commissioner, stated that security forces, including military, pursued the attackers but "sadly, we couldn't catch up with them."
Nigeria is Africa's largest country, with 206 million inhabitants, and has been fighting an Islamic extremist insurgency in northeast Nigeria for more than a decade. According to a U.N. count of the victims, more than 35,000 people have been killed by these extremists. They also want to abolish Western education and establish Shariah law.
However, Ondo has been long considered to be one of the most secure states in the country.
Sunday Adewale, who is employed in the palace of the chief local, stated that the gunmen used surprise to their advantage.
He said, "Everybody felt relaxed, and had gone to church." "They did what they wanted in 30 minutes and then they went home."
As worshippers celebrated the feast of Pentecost (an important Catholic post-Easter holiday), the attackers attacked. Bishop Jude Arogundade stated that gunmen entered the church, while others remained outside to shoot anyone who fled.
Steven Omotayo, a nearby resident, heard the gunshots, and ran to the scene.
He stated that the church had three entrances, and the main one was locked. This made it hard for people to escape.
They were simply shooting. He said that if they see someone trying to escape, or standing up, they will shoot them. "Everyone standing was shot with bullets."
The Rev. Vincent Anadi stated that the gunmen also used explosives or grenades.
Nigerians were shocked and angry at the attack on Owo. This small town is home to traders and government workers and is located approximately 50 km (31 miles) away from Akure, the Ondo state capital. Questions were raised about how gunmen managed to get there from the central location of the church.
Rahaman Yusuf stated that many people sought to discover the fate of their loved ones after the attack. He said that some people only came to find out they were dead, and added that many others also visited hospitals to check if their loved ones had been injured.
Workers at Owo's Federal Medical Center struggled to care for the many wounded victims of the attack. All available doctors in the area were directed by the Nigeria Medical Association to assist.
According to one doctor who spoke under anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to journalists, some of the injured were in a "very poor state" and required surgery.
The doctor stated that he had seen a lot of casualties in his career, but the one he saw yesterday was unlike anything he'd ever seen. "This catastrophe struck all ages, from children to seniors.
The hospital's blood supplies ran out and the doctor pleaded for more.
Asadu reported from Abuja (Nigeria),