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    More than 50 people dead after gunmen attack worshippers at Nigeria church

    Gunmen opened fire on worshippers and detonated explosives at a Catholic church in the city of Owo in southwestern Nigeria on Sunday, 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. Many children were among the dead, legislator Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole said.

    Authorities did not immediately release an official death toll.

    A doctor at a hospital in Owo told Reuters that at least 50 bodies had been brought in to two hospitals in the town from the attack. The doctor, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press, also said there was a need for blood donations to treat the injured.

    Adelegbe Timileyin, who represents the Owo area in Nigeria’s lower legislative chamber, also said at least 50 people had been killed, though others put the figure higher. Videos appearing to be from the scene of the attack showed church worshippers lying in pools of blood while people around them wailed.

    It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack on the church.

    People walk through the St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Nigeria, on Sunday after an attack that killed more than 50 churchgoers. (Rahaman A Yusuf/The Associated Press)

    Nigeria’s security forces did not immediately respond to questions about how the attack occurred or if there are any leads about suspects.

    Rev. Augustine Ikwu, the Catholic Church spokesperson in Nigeria, said the bishop and priests from the parish had survived unharmed, contradicting Timileyin’s earlier comment to The Associated Press that the presiding priest had been abducted by the attackers.

    “It is so sad that while the Holy Mass was going on, unknown gunmen attacked St Francis Catholic Church … leaving many feared dead and many others injured and the Church violated,” Ikwu said.

    “Our hearts are heavy,” Ondo Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu tweeted Sunday. “Our peace and tranquillity have been attacked by the enemies of the people.”

    Condemnation from president, pope

    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack as “heinous,” according to a statement from a spokesperson.

    “No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome light. Nigeria will eventually win,” said Buhari, who was elected after vowing to end Nigeria’s prolonged security crisis.

    Officials have released few details about the shooting, but Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement condeming the attack as ‘heinous.’ This photo of Buhari was taken in London on May 12, 2016. (Dan Kitwood/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

    In Rome, Pope Francis responded to news of the attack.

    “The Pope has learned of the attack on the church in Ondo, Nigeria, and the deaths of dozens of worshippers, many children, during the celebration of Pentecost. While the details are being clarified, Pope Francis prays for the victims and the country, painfully affected at a time of celebration, 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.

    Owo is about 345 kilometres east of Lagos. While much of Nigeria has struggled with security issues, Ondo is widely known as one of Nigeria’s most peaceful states. The state, though, has been caught up in a rising violent conflict between farmers and herders.

    “In the history of Owo, we have never experienced such an ugly incident,” said lawmaker Oluwole. “This is too much.”

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