At least 17 people have been killed after a group of armed assailants stormed a church in southern Nigeria and went on a shooting spree, local officials say.
The deadly incident occurred in the town of Omoku, some 90 kilometers from the southern oil hub of Port Harcourt in Rivers State late on Monday, when dozens of churchgoers were returning from a New Year’s Eve service, said a local police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, on Tuesday.
He added that at least 12 other people sustained injuries during the shooting and were rushed to a nearby hospital.
According to Osi Olisa, the chairman of a local community group, the gunmen also shot people on the road before escaping from the scene.
Meanwhile, Rivers State police public relations officer Nnamdi Omoni said the death toll could not be confirmed at the moment. “The commissioner of police, Ahmed Zaki, has also launched a manhunt for the bandits to ensure they are arrested and prosecuted,” he said.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the deadly attack in the oil-rich state. Gun violence is common in parts of Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta region, composed of nine states, including Rivers, where an array of militant groups take up guns against multinational companies to demand a share of the oil proceeds.
Blighted by poverty despite a wealth of oil, Rivers State, in particular, is home to a number of powerful armed outfits, known as cults in Nigeria, who often enter in violent turf wars and rule the streets of the impoverished region.
Nigeria has also been suffering from deadly attacks claimed by the Boko Haram Takfiri terrorist group in northeast regions since 2009. At least 20,000 people have so far lost their lives in the attacks and more than 2.7 million others have been displaced.
The United Nations has already warned that areas affected by Boko Haram face a humanitarian crisis.