Abuja – The death toll from a gun attack on a Catholic church in south-west Nigeria’s Ondo state has risen to 40 while the government said on Thursday it suspected Islamic State militants were responsible.
The attack during mass at St. Francis’ church in Owo last Sunday also injured more than 80 people, and marked a rare assault in a relatively safe region.
Government officials said they suspected the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a group that usually operates far away in the northeast of the country, was behind the violence.
“We have been able to locate the perpetrators of that sad horrendous attack. From all indications, we are zeroing-in on ISWAP. The animals in ISWAP wanting attention and recognition are suspected to have launched that attack,” said Nigeria’s Interior Minister Rauf Aregbesola.
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“The number of deaths now is 40,” Governor Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu said in a statement Wednesday.
“Receiving treatment (in hospital) we have 61,” he said, adding that 26 others have been discharged.
Children were among the dead and injured, authorities have said.
On Tuesday the governor had given a toll of 22 dead and 58 wounded.
Police said the gunmen hid among worshippers inside the church and also opened fire on the congregation through the windows from outside.
Fragments of explosives and three unexploded improvised explosive devices were found at the scene.
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A priest who was conducting the service told AFP that some worshippers managed to hide in the vestry with others, including children, for about 20 minutes before emerging to scenes of carnage.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
The governor said the bloodshed was “indescribable”.
He added that residents were understandably angry but should not try to seek revenge.
Security has been stepped up and the state will soon issue an executive order requiring all places of worship to install CCTV, he said.
The attack drew international condemnation, including from Pope Francis.
Nigeria’s military and police are battling on several fronts, with jihadist groups in the north-east, criminal gangs in the north-west and centre and separatist violence in the southeast, among other threats.
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