The attackers entered St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Ondo state, south-west Nigeria as service got underway on Sunday morning at the main community parish, witnesses said, firing live rounds on congregants before detonating explosives already planted in the church and then kidnapped a priest as well as some other church-goers.
But a doctor at a local hospital, quoted by the Reuters news agency, said that “several worshippers were brought in dead”.
After visiting the church and hospital, state lawmaker Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole told the Associated Press news agency that children were among the dead. And added that the tragic incident was orchestrated to send a message to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu as the attackers were identified by locals as being members of the ethnic Fulani stock.
“Fulani herdsmen entered our community and started shooting, they killed about 28 people and dozens were severely injured,” Olayemi Adeyemi, a member of Ondo House of Assembly representing the constituency in a video shared on Twitter.
“We have dozens of injured people at Federal Medical Centre, Owo, and I am on my way there now to see the victims,” Mr. Adeyemi said, adding that he had just left the church premises.
Video of the attack shared online showed bodies believed to be of church members in a stream of blood.
The attack was immediately seen as a message to Mr. Akeredolu, a son of Owo whose policies have been deemed highly restrictive of herdsmen activities around Ondo.
“We have enjoyed improved security since herdsmen were driven away from our forests by this administration,” Mr. Adeyemi said. “This is a reprisal attack to send a diabolical message to the governor.”
A spokesman for the governor did not immediately return a request seeking comments.
The police and other security forces have arrived at the scene and intensified security around the church and the community.