Nigerian officials now suspect that the Islamic State group was behind the attack on a church in the southwest of the country that took the lives of at least 40 people.
Interior Minister Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola said on Thursday that the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) is suspected to be the group responsible for the Pentecost Sunday attack, which occurred during Mass.
“We have been able to see the footprint of ISWAP in the horrendous attack in Owo and we are after them. Our security agencies are on their trail and we will bring them to justice,” Aregbesola told reporters in the capital Abuja.
ISWAP, predominantly active in northeastern Nigeria and neighbouring Chad, is one of two major Islamist insurgent groups that have been fighting each other and the Nigerian military for years, according to Reuters. The attack, which took place inside St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, in southwestern Ondo State, is far from ISWAP’s usual area of operations.
Archbishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, however, believes that Fulani herdsmen were responsible for the attack.
“It has become obvious that our country is under siege by Fulani militia, masquerading as herdsmen,” he said during the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Owerri, Msgr. Anthony J. V. Obinna. “A few weeks ago, it was the heartless killing of Deborah and the callous attack of churches in Sokoto,” referring to the young Deborah Samuel Yakubu, a Christian student, lynched on May 12 for “alleged blasphemy” and the riots that followed. Ugorji also cited “the kidnapping of the Prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria, who later disclosed that he and his two co-travellers were abducted by armed Fulani, with the active connivance of the military.”
State governor Arakunrin Akeredolu said Thursday that 127 people had been affected by the attack, of whom 40 had died and 61 were still in hospital.
The death toll has been variously reported as “more than 50” and “more than 80.”
Akeredolu said the state government would provide land for a mass burial of the victims.
“We will have a memorial park here where those who died in the attack will be buried,” he said.