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7 Aug 2017

Gunman kills 11 in church over drug barons’ rivalry

It was all like an action-packed movie.

A gunman dressed in black, storming a church and opening fire on worshippers.

There was commotion. By the time the gunman left, no fewer than 11 worshippers lay dead.

That was the scene yesterday at St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Amakwa-Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State. The gunman came during the early morning mass.

Many were injured during the incident, which Governor Willie Obiano described as “sacrilegious”.

An eyewitness, who narrated how the attack occurred, said the priest, Rev. Fr. Jude Onwuaso, was unhurt. The witness, who said he was part of those who evacuated the victims, said the gunman went into the church, identified Chief Akunwafor Ikegwuonwu, a parishioner, and shot him dead. He then went on the rampage, shooting indiscriminately at worshippers.

Commissioner of Police Garba Baba Umar said 11 persons were killed and 18 injured. He said some people in the community had been invited for interrogation.

It was leant that the gunman may have struck on the instruction of one of two suspected drug barons from the community who live in South Africa. One of them, who was the gunman’s target, is believed to have built the Catholic Church about two years ago.

There are two accounts of the incident. One is that a gunman committed the crime. The other claimed there were six gunmen.

A source from the community, who pleaded for anonymity, told The Nation that the gunmen visited the home of one of the drug barons, perhaps to assassinate him, but discovered that he had travelled.

This, according to the source, might have made them to visit the Catholic Church near his house.

The father of the suspected drug baron was killed along with others in the church

The police commissioner said preliminary investigation revealed that the attack was carried out by people from the area and not by Boko Haram as being speculated in some quarters.

He said: “From our findings, it is very clear that the person who carried out the attack must be an indigene of the area.

“We gathered that worshippers for 6 o’clock Sunday mass at St. Philip Ozobulu were in the service when gunmen dressed in black attire, covering their  faces with fez caps, entered the church and moved straight to a particular direction and opened fire.

“The men, after shooting at their targeted victim, still went on a shooting spree, killing and wounding other worshippers.’’

It was learnt that the attackers were speaking Igbo when firing at the worshippers.

Umar said though no arrest had been made, the police were working on the information that the attack followed a quarrel between two Ozubulu men living abroad.

The commissioner of police said it was wrong for the perpetrators of the act to take their quarrel into the church, saying “such conduct shows the people behind the act do not fear God’’.

The police have launched a manhunt for suspects.

Dismisssing the rumour that the attack was carried out by Boko Haram elements, Umar urged residents to go about their businesses without fear.

Obiano visited the church and the Nnamdi Azikwe University Teaching Hospital, NAUTH, Nnewi where the injured were being treated.

He also confirmed that the shooting followed a clash of two brothers based abroad. He described it as a “communal feud”.

Obiano promised to offset the medical bills of the injured and assist in the funeral for those killed.

Some of the critically injured died on the way to the hospital.

Obiano added that intelligence report linked the shooting to an existing feud between some members of Umuezekwe Ofufe Amakwa community of Ozubulu living abroad.

“It is an isolated case and I urge worshippers in the Church and residents of the area to go about their normal activities.”

He also said 50 doctors had been mobilised to the hospital to assist in providing the best medical care to the injured persons.

The governor also visited Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Cathedral, Nnewi, where he addressed a congregation of worshippers.

He intimated the worshippers on the true picture of the incident, saying there was nothing to worry about.

The Priest of St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Rev. Fr. Jude Onwuaso, said the attack took place at about 6.30 a.m.

According to him, an unidentified man came into the church, shot at a man,  Ikegwuonwu, before shooting sporadically at other worshippers.

An eyewitness, who simply identified herself as a choir member, said the church was dark as there was no power supply at the time.

She said the generating set suddenly stopped working; so, the mass proceeded with the congregation using candles.

According to her, the gunman, after the shooting, immediately jumped into a waiting car with a driver.

One of the survivors, Mr. Stephen Ohamadike told The Nation at the church premises that the gunmen entered the church around 6.45am as they were about to begin “ the prayer of the faithful”.

His words: “Those of us who were to say the prayers of the faithful had just assembled at the altar and I had number 2 which meant that I was to say the prayer for Nigeria.

“Suddenly, I saw someone who was putting on a cap, shooting indiscriminately inside the church.

“There was pandemonium and in the midst of the confusion, I just lay down on the floor.

”The officiating priest and the Mass servers quickly left the altar and the Mass came to an abrupt end.

”I counted 11 bodies and many were injured. I used the vehicle belonging to Pa Ikwgwuonu to take him and his wife and others to Evans Hospital where the doctors advised us to go to the teaching hospital.  I used the car to convey many other people to the hospital before I came back to Amakwa.”

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