Nigerian authorities announce the arrest of several suspects connected to the 5 June attack on St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State – a win for the nation’s military amid rising insecurity in the world’s most populous African nation.
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The Nigerian military says that some persons suspected to be behind the Pentecost Sunday deadly attack on a Catholic Church in Ondo State, Nigeria, have been arrested.
On 5 June, gunmen had stormed St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, killing no fewer than 40 worshippers and injuring at least 80 other persons.
Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, made an initial announcement of the arrest of four suspects on Tuesday during a meeting with the media.
Two days later, the Military High Command disclosed that two additional suspects linked to the Owo attack had been detained.
General Irabor said that the initial arrests were made on 1 August in a joint military/DSS (Directorate of State Service) operation in Eika, Okehi Local Government Area of Kogi state.
He explained that the authorities would have wanted to present the suspects to the public immediately “but we could not do so because some investigations are still ongoing.”
One of the arrested suspects is a high-ranking member of ISWAP – the so-called Islamic State in West Africa Province, General Irabor said, adding that the suspect was “planning more deadly attacks and had perfected those plans with his accomplices before he was captured.”
The Chief of Defense staff however gave his assurance that “in due course, the world will see them and others who are behind other daring attacks in the country.”
The 9 August arrest of the two other suspects was disclosed in a statement issued by the Nigerian Defense Ministry Press Office Chief Maj. Gen. Jimmy Akpor, who confirmed that they were arrested in Omialafara, Ose Local Government Area, Ondo State.
Meanwhile, Ondo State Governor, Arakunrin Akeredolu, reported that another person who housed the suspects before the attack was also arrested.
Funeral Mass for the victims killed by gunmen during the Owo attack
The Pope’s closeness
Following the 5 June attack, Pope Francis sent a telegram conveying his sorrow and spiritual closeness to the people of Owo at the “act of unspeakable violence.”
The Holy Father also commended the souls of the dead to the loving mercy of God and implored divine healing and consolation upon the injured and those who were grieving.
The Owo attack also drew swift condemnation from several quarters, including civil and religious groups, who called on the government to do more to ensure the protection of the lives and properties of its citizens, especially in the face of the increasing daring attacks by bandits.
In recent years, Nigerian authorities have been faced with the challenge of battling insecurity which began with the activities of the Boko Haram extremist jihadist group, especially in the northern part of the country.
The insecurity challenges have more recently evolved to include clashes between nomadic herdsmen and stable farmers, and attacks from kidnappers and armed bandits, popularly referred to as “unknown gunmen.”