It occurred during the Pentecost celebration at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo town, Ondo state, usually spared from jihadists and criminal gangs active in other parts of the country. .

Monday morning, huge bloodstains still smeared the floor, the walls and the wooden pews of this church, testifying to the violence of this massacre, according to an AFP journalist on the spot. Human remains still litter the ground.

About 40 injured people are currently being treated in various medical centers in the city, local authorities told AFP.

“Dynamite exploded in the church (…) the assailants did not even enter the church, they fired through the windows,” the governor’s spokesman told AFP. State of Ondo, Richard Olatunde, who confirmed that at least 21 people had died.

This attack, denounced as a “heinous murder of the faithful” by President Muhammadu Buhari, has not been claimed. Local authorities said security forces had been mobilized to find the attackers, whose identity is not known.

On Sunday afternoon, Pope Francis reacted with a press release claiming “to have learned of the attack (which occurred) in the church of Ondo, in Nigeria, and the death of dozens of faithful, including many children, during the celebration of Pentecost”.

“As the details of the incident are being clarified, Pope Francis prays for the victims and for the country, painfully affected during a moment of celebration, and entrusts them to the Lord, so that he sends his Spirit to comfort them,” he added.

– Generalized insecurity –

The attack came two days before the launch by the APC, the ruling party, of its primaries for the presidential election of 2023 to choose its candidate. President Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general, ends his second term in February 2023, as provided by the Constitution.

Security remains a major challenge in Africa’s most populous country and the continent’s largest economy.

Attacks on religious sites are particularly sensitive in Nigeria, where tensions often escalate between communities in a country with a predominantly Christian south-east and a predominantly Muslim north.

This type of attack is however rare in the south-west of the country, which is relatively peaceful, even if criminal groups occasionally carry out kidnappings there.

The Nigerian army, on the other hand, faces many hotbeds of insecurity in the rest of the country. A jihadist insurgency has been raging for 12 years in the northeast, gangs of looters and kidnappers terrorize the northwest and center, and the southeast is the scene of separatist movements.

The jihadist group Boko Haram, present in the northeast of the country alongside Iswap, affiliated with the Islamic State, has already targeted churches throughout a conflict which has left 40,000 dead and 2 million displaced in Nigeria.