Nigeria arrests suspects for Pentecost Sunday massacre at Catholic church

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(CP) Military officials say they have arrested the suspected gunmen charged with carrying out a massacre on a Catholic church service in southwestern Nigeria that killed over dozens on Pentecost Sunday.

Nigeria's Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Leo Irabor told local reporters that "those behind the dastardly act" that worshippers dead at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo in Ondo state in June have been taken into custody, according to The Daily Trust.

Further details were not released, but Irabor told The Associated Press that investigations remain ongoing.

"In due course, the world will see them and others who are behind other daring attacks in the country," the Nigerian general was quoted as saying.

The June 5 attack at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church left around 40 people killed and as many as 80 reportedly injured.

Bishop Jude Arogundade of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ondo told The Christian Post the massacre "left the entire community broken" and the "entire diocese shattered."

Arogundade told AP that the Catholic church has not been informed yet of the arrests. He added church officials will wait to receive further confirmation about "the motive because we are a peaceful organization, we don't get into politics or into controversial issues."

Arogundade described the southwestern portion of Nigeria where the diocese is located as a "stable part of Nigeria" and said it has "never had this kind of incident before."

"We're so shocked and surprised that anyone would come from far away ... to attack us," he said.

In the 2022 Open Doors USA World Watch List of the countries where it is most challenging to be a Christian, Nigeria jumped to seventh place, its highest ranking ever.

Violence against Christians and Catholics in Nigeria has stepped up in recent months, including the murder of two Catholic priests in the Nigerian states of Kaduna and Edo in June.

Those murders came about a month after two other priests were slain in two other districts in the West African country.

In May, unidentified gunmen stormed a Catholic parish in northern Nigeria. They abducted two priests, Fr. Stephen Ojapa and Fr. Oliver Okpara, from the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto. Vatican News reported at the time that two unidentified boys from St. Patrick Catholic Church in Gidan Maikambo area of Katsina state's Kafur Local Government Area were also abducted.

Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, reported that at least 4,650 Christians were killed between Oct. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021, marking an increase from 3,530 the previous year.

During that same timeframe, more than 2,500 Christians were reportedly kidnapped, up from 990 a year earlier.

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