Gunmen kill 17 at church service in Nigeria's River State

Gunmen kill 17 at church service in Nigeria’s River State

Gunmen kill 17 at church service in Nigeria’s River State

Pilgrims from Nigeria wait for the start of Pope Francis's celebration of Mass marking the feast of Pentecost in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 4, 2017. (Credit: Paul Haring/CNS.)

A Nigerian official says gunmen shot dead at least 17 worshippers who had attended a church service to usher in the new year.

LAGOS, Nigeria — A Nigerian official says gunmen shot dead at least 17 worshippers who had attended a church service to usher in the new year.

The chairman of a local community group, Osi Olisa, said Tuesday that the gunmen also shot people on the road before escaping.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack in River State, though suspicion has fallen on an armed group believed to be behind kidnappings and killings in the area.

In November, local defense groups and security officials shot dead the group’s leader.

Gun violence is common in parts of Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta region, where various militant groups take up arms against multinational companies to demand a share of the oil proceeds.

Dakuku Peterside, the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, told Nigeria’s Premium Times the violence was due to a turf war between rival cult groups in the area, adding that cult-related killing was commonplace in the area because of the support of powerful local politicians.

“My heart goes to the people of [the local area] and the immediate families of the deceased. This is an act that must be condemned. The good people of Omoku have suffered enough and this has dealt a further blow on their sufferings,” Peterside told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, at least ten youths have been arrested in the central Nigerian state of Kwara after a series of New Year’s Eve attacks on worshippers at churches in Ilorin, the capital, which left at least three people seriously injured.

The Kwara State Governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, issued a statement calling the attacks “criminal, satanic and alien to the state.”

“Peace is sine qua non for the development of any society and the government will not tolerate any act capable of breaching peace, unity and tranquility of the state,” he said.

Although Kwara is majority-Muslim, officials said there appeared to be no religious motivation for the attack, noting the perpetrators also harassed groups of Muslims.

Crux staff contributed to this report.

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