Nigerian Priest Shot Outside Church by Gunmen Pretending to Be Worshipers

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(Photo: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)Members attend a memorial church service for victims of a suicide bomb attack at St. Theresa's Church in Madalla, on the outskirts of Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 23, 2012.

A Nigerian priest was shot outside of his church last week by gunmen pretending to be worshipers, Nigerian news outlets are reporting.

Rev. Father Daniel Nwankwo was shot last Friday after an early-morning mass held at Thomas Catholic Church in the town of Ikeja in Nigeria's southwestern Lagos state, the Nigerian online newspaper The Premium Times reports.

Lagos State Police Command spokesperson Olarinde Famous-Cole explained in a statement that the incident occurred at about 8:30 a.m. after prayers concluded at Friday morning's mass. The gunmen pretended to be worshipers and asked to "have a dialogue" with Nwankwo, who was the head of the congregation.

Famous-Cole explained that Nwankwo obliged the men's request to talk and went outside of the church's auditorium to listen to their concerns.

While outside, the priest was shot with a locally made handgun by one of the men "who spoke fluently in Igbo language." After the assailants escaped, Nwankwo was rushed to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital.

"After the incident, the Rev. Father raised alarm, while the hoodlums jumped the fence and escaped towards an adjoining canal," Famous-Cole was quoted as saying last Friday. "The Rev. Father was immediately taken to LASUTH for medical attention where he is currently being treated and is under stable conditions."

The assailants were confirmed to be of "Igbo background" by witnesses who saw the men having a conversation with the priest outside the church.

Famous-Cole also explained that the witnesses spoke with Lagos Police Commissioner Imohimi Edgal and were not recognized as members of the church.

"The CP Imohimi Edgal has also visited the Rev. Father Daniel Nwankwo, spoke directly with him and confirmed that he is being [given] adequate medical care and he is recuperating fast," Famous-Cole explained.

According to The Premium Times, Edgal ordered police officers to look for the assailants in the canal area where the witnesses said they had fled after shooting the pastor.

The shooting of the priest comes as Nigeria ranks as the 12th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2017 World Watch List.

Christians face threats of persecution by not only Islamic extremists from groups like Boko Haram but also from dangerous Fulani herdsmen.

On Monday, the United States-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported that at least 20 Christians were killed last Thursday when Fulani herdsmen invaded the Christian village of Ancha in the Plateau state in north central Nigeria.

In a press release shared with The Christian Post, ICC explained that 19 of the Christians killed were members of a Baptist church, while one was a member of a Methodist church. Five Christians survived after suffering various injuries.

ICC notes that at least one entire Christian family was killed in the attack.

"They were the last surviving members of their direct line," the ICC press release states.

"My heart is terribly heavy. I haven't been able to sleep. I was called [on the phone] at about 12:00 midnight when the Fulani militia came into the village," Rev. Nanchwat Laven, the pastor of Salama Baptist Church, told ICC.

Laven said he isn't exactly sure what prompted the herdsmen to attack the village but thinks it could be because villagers told the herdsmen not to let their cattle graze at the villages' farms.

"We didn't have a quarrel. Some of the herdsmen [would] come into [the] village and relax among the villagers, sometimes way into late evening, when the local vigilante would advise them to go home," Laven stated. "Of course we have had issues from time to time with the herdsmen letting their cattle graze into our farms and destroy our crops. It would appear the Fulanis [launched this] attack because they had ... some provocative attitude [about] their cattle graz[ing] on our farms."

Earlier this month, it was reported that the slain body of another Catholic priest who was affiliated with the Diocese of Orlu was found just one day after he was kidnapped by suspected gunmen.

"On Saturday morning, a corpse was found in the bush," Police Commissioner Chris Ezike was quoted as saying in an interview with Morning Star News. "Church leaders were called, and they identified the corpse as that of the priest. Nothing is missing in his car. Investigation will continue until we find his killers."

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