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Gunmen have opened fire inside a Catholic church in southwest Nigeria during Pentecost Sunday Mass today killing at least 50 people.

The victims, Parishopners of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church included women and children.

A statement signed by the Director of Social Communications of the Diocese of Ondo, Fr. Augustine Ikwu said “It is so sad to say that while the Holy Mass was going on, men of unknown origin, wielding guns attacked St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State. Many are feared dead and many others are injured and the Church violated. The identity of the perpetrators remains unknown while the situation has left the community devastated.”

President Muhammadu Buhari in a statement condemned the attack, calling it “heinous”, and the Vatican said Pope Francis was praying for the victims who had been “painfully stricken in a moment of celebration”.

Nigeria is battling an Islamist insurgency in the northeast and armed gangs who carry out attacks and kidnappings for ransom, mostly in the northwest.

In the southwest, attacks such as this are rare. Ondo state governor Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu cut short a trip to the capital Abuja and returned to Ondo after the attack. “We shall commit every available resource to hunt down these assailants and make them pay,” he said in a statement.

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