Gunmen attacked a Catholic church in the Ondo region of southwestern Nigeria on Sunday, killing scores of worshipers, according to the government and police.

The attack took place during morning mass at the San Francisco Catholic Church in the town of Owo, located in the southwest of the country, a region where jihadist and criminal gang attacks are rare.

“It is still early to say how many people died. But many worshipers lost their lives and others were injured,” said Ibukun Odunlami, a police spokesman in the Ondo region.

President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the attack, calling it “appalling”. Local media have claimed that women and children were among the dead.

Funmilayo Ibukun Odunlami, a spokesman for the Ondo State Police, said only that there had been an incident at St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo and that the police would issue a further statement shortly.

Africa’s most populous country has seen attacks and kidnappings for ransom by armed gangs, particularly in its northwest. These attacks are rare in southwestern Nigeria.

Ondo State Governor Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu has cut short a trip to the capital Abuja and returned to Ondo after the attack. “We will commit all available resources to hunt down these assailants and make them pay,” he said.

In a statement, the Diocese of Ondo has stated that security agents have moved to keep the situation calm. The diocese has denied that some priests were kidnapped and has reported that all members of the clergy are safe.

The bishop has appealed to remain calm, respect the law and pray in peace, so that normality can return to the community, the state and the country.

The attack occurred on Pentecost Sunday, a date marked for Catholics.

At the moment, those responsible for the attack and their motivations are unknown.

For 12 years, Nigeria has been rocked by a jihadist insurgency in the northeast of the country, while criminal groups carry out mass kidnappings in the northwest and separatist groups operate in the southeast.

The Vatican has said that Pope Francis is aware of the incident and is praying for the victims of the deadly attack.

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