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Church attack in southern Nigeria kills at least 11 worshippers

(Wikimedia Commons/Joy-historian)St.Cletus Catholic Church in Otolo Nnewi, Nigeria

At least 11 worshippers were killed after gunmen attacked a Catholic church during Sunday Mass in Nigeria's southeastern Anambra state.

Witnesses said that five gunmen stormed St. Philip's Catholic Church in Ozubulu and opened fire on the worshippers, but the police stated that the attack was carried out by a lone gunman.

The authorities said that the violence was tied to a feud between two Nigerian siblings who are now living in South Africa.

"Intelligence report/preliminary investigation proved that it is a fight between the two sons of the community living outside Nigeria that caused the incident, because one of them built the church [at] which the incident happened," a police statement said, according to Morning Star News.

"It is sacrilegious, but for now, [it] is still premature to disclose the identities. We will brief the public after investigation is concluded," it continued.

Police Commissioner Garba Umar noted that the attack was carried out by local people, but it was rooted in a conflict between the siblings' rival gangs abroad.

Local rights activist Emeka Umeagbalasi said that the information he received regarding the motive of the attack concurred with that of the police version.

The gunmen went looking for the son of a local chief at the church, but they opened fire on the parishioners when he could not be found, Umeagbalasi noted.

Anambra state spokesman Ifeanyi Aniagoh maintained that the attack was carried out by a lone gunman.

At least 18 people were critically injured in the shootings. Aniagoh said that the government will take care of all the medical bills of the victims, who were reportedly taken to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital in Nnewi.

On Monday, Pope Francis sent his "heartfelt condolences" to the parishioners of the Diocese of Nnewi in Nigeria.

"Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and injury following the violent attack in Saint Philip's Catholic Church, Ozubulu, His Holiness Pope Francis extends heartfelt condolences to you and to all the faithful of the Diocese of Nnewi, in particular the families of the deceased and all those affected by this tragedy," a telegram signed by the Vatican's Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin read.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack and described it as "an appalling crime against humanity and an unspeakable sacrilege."

No group has claimed responsibility for the shootings, but the police have launched a manhunt for the perpetrators. The police have ruled out any involvement by Boko Haram, which has attacked hundreds of churches and mosques in northern Nigeria.

Although the militants have been active in the mainly-Muslim north since 2009, church attacks are rare in southern Nigeria, which is predominantly Christian.

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