Catholic Priest in Nigeria Kidnapped, Killed

No ransom demanded, no sign of robbery.

The Rev. Cyriacus Onunkwo. (Morning Star News via parish)

The Rev. Cyriacus Onunkwo. (Morning Star News via parish)

JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – A Catholic priest who was kidnapped in southeastern Nigeria on Friday (Sept. 1), was found dead on Saturday, sources said.

Gunmen dragged the Rev. Cyriacus Onunkwo, of the diocese of Orlu, Imo state, from his car in the town of Orlu, Imo state, and the next day police found his body in the wilds near the neighboring town of Omuma, police and church leaders told Morning Star News. His abductors contacted no one about a ransom, they said.

“The priest was abducted on Friday morning while he was driving in the town, and yesterday [Saturday] in the morning, the police notified us that his body has been found,” the Rev. Augustine Tochukwu Ukwuoma, bishop of Orlu Diocese, told Morning Star News by phone.

Chris Ezike, commissioner of police of the Imo State Command, told Morning Star News that the motive did not appear to be robbery. The police chief said the car belonging to the priest was found and no items were missing.

“On Saturday morning, a corpse was found in the bush,” he said. “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.”

While the diocese is reportedly more than 70 percent Catholic, Imo state is wracked by corruption and crime.

The abduction was the second case of abduction of a Catholic priest in Imo state this summer. On June 16, the Rev. Charles Nwachukwu was kidnapped at gunpoint at about 8 p.m. in Amauzari town, Isiala Mbano Local Government Area (LGA). He was held in a forest in Agbaja, in the Nwangele LGA of Imo state, until he was rescued two days later.

Onunkwo, a native of Osina, Imo state, was ordained on Nov. 29, 2003.

Attacks on Christians have become increasingly common in southern Nigeria. At least 11 people were killed in Anambra state on Aug. 6 in an attack on a Catholic church service apparently rooted in a conflict with a relative of one of the parishioners, authorities said. At least 18 others were injured in the shooting at St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Amakwa Ozobulu, near Onitsha of Ekwusigo LGA, a state official said.

A police statement emailed to Morning Star News stated that “unknown gunmen” attacked.

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

Police Commissioner Garba Umar told journalists that the shooting was the result of a conflict between two Nigerian siblings now living in South Africa. While asserting that the attack was carried out by local people, he said it was rooted in conflict between the siblings’ rival gangs abroad.

Text messages and emails received by Morning Star News soon after the attack indicated gunmen attacked as parishioners were worshiping during early morning Mass at about 8 a.m.

The assailant reportedly targeted at least one person before opening fire on others.

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent. Nigeria ranks 12th on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.

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