LAGOS, Nigeria – Gunmen burst into a weekly prayer meeting in Nigeria, triggering a stampede by hundreds of worshippers that killed at least 12 people, police and witnesses said Saturday.
The gunmen, who left without wounding anyone, were apparently trying to capture or harm fiery Roman Catholic priest Ejike Mbaka, who was leading the prayer meeting on Thursday night, said diocese spokesman Rev. Evans Offor.
The meeting had been organized by the Roman Catholic Church on the grounds of a technical college in the eastern city of Enugu. Rev. Obiora Ike, vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Enugu, said the gunmen broke into the open-air meeting just as it was ending.
There were differing accounts of the number of dead. Ike said at least 14 people were killed, while police commissioner Idris Mohammed said at least 12 people were confirmed dead and authorities were investigating reports of two other deaths.
Mbaka had been repeatedly harassed and sought by Enugu state government officials for questioning, Offor said. He did not elaborate, and government officials were not immediately available for comment. However, police said they were not looking for Mbaka.
The incident was the latest in a series of deadly stampedes in Nigeria.
In January, at least 1,000 people were killed while trying to flee a series of explosions at a military barracks in the commercial capital, Lagos.
Days earlier, several people were trampled to death when a crowd of thousands tried to push its way into a sermon led by the charismatic German preacher Reinhard Bonnke.