Makurdi, Nigeria | AFP | Two priests were among at least 18 people killed in a dawn attack on a church in central Nigeria, police said Tuesday, in violence condemned by President Muhammadu Buhari as “satanic”.
Around 30 suspected herdsmen attacked Mbalom community in the volatile region killing the worshippers and the two priests, said Benue state police commissioner Fatai Owoseni in the state capital of Makurdi.
“They attacked the venue of a burial ceremony and also attacked the church where the two reverend fathers were holding mass,” said Owoseni.
“We were able to recover 16 bodies from the scene of the attack and those of the two priests.”
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari described the violence as “satanic” in a statement.
“This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable,” said Buhari.
“Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting.”
Worshippers were gathered for the daily 5:30 am (0430GMT) service at St. Ignatius Catholic church when they heard gunshots, said Mbalom resident Terhemen Angor to AFP.
“People started scampering and wailing,” said Angor, saying that scores were “gunned down in cold blood while many sustained injuries including bullet wounds.”
“After attacking the church, the invaders descended on the community and razed over 60 houses,” he said.
“The community is on fire and deserted, people are fleeing to neighbouring villages hoping to find a safe haven for their families.”
The Catholic Diocese of Makurdi confirmed the death of priests Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha in a statement denouncing the violence.
– ‘Under siege’ –
Riots over the killings erupted in Makurdi, the epicentre of the violence that has thrown the state into chaos.
Police fired teargas to disperse a rampaging mob that took over a busy intersection and lit massive fires in protest of the latest attack.
“We are under siege,” said acting governor of Benue state Benson Abounu.
“We have been attacked from all corners and this is unacceptable.”
Central Nigeria is in the grip of a security crisis as nomadic herders and sedentary farmers fight over land in an increasingly bloody battle for resources.