Gunmen attack Nigeria church, dozens feared dead

Gunmen attack Nigeria church, dozens feared dead

ABUJA, Nigeria - Gunmen opened fire on worshippers and detonated explosives on Sunday at a Catholic church in southwestern Nigeria, leaving dozens feared dead, state lawmakers said.

The attackers targeted the St. Francis Catholic Church in Ondo state just as the worshippers gathered on Pentecost Sunday, the legislator Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole said. Among the dead were many children, he said.

The presiding priest was also abducted, said Adelegbe Timileyin, who represents the Owo area in Nigeria's lower legislative chamber.

Ondo Governor Rotimi Akeredolu tweeted Sunday. "Our hearts are heavy." Our peace and tranquility has been attacked by the enemies of the people. An official death toll was not immediately released by authorities. Timileyin said at least 50 people had been killed, though others put the figure higher. Videos from the scene of the attack showed church worshippers lying in pools of blood while people around them wailed.

According to a statement from his spokesman, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said only fiends from the nether region could have carried out such a reckless act.

This country will never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome light. Nigeria will win, said Buhari, who was elected after vowing to end Nigeria's security crisis.

Pope Francis responded to the news of the attack in Rome.

The pope learned of the attack on the church in Ondo, Nigeria and the deaths of dozens of worshippers, many children, during the celebration of Pentecost. Pope Francis prays for victims and the country, painfully affected at a time of celebrations, 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.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack on the church. While Nigeria has struggled with security issues, Ondo is widely known as one of the most peaceful states in the country. The state has been caught up in a growing conflict between farmers and herders.

Nigeria s security forces did not respond to questions about how the attack occurred or if there are any leads about the suspects. Owo is located about 345 kilometers 215 miles east of Lagos.

"In the history of Owo, we have never had such an ugly incident," Oluwole said.