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Nigerian Imam reaches out after deadly church attack

Ahmad Aladesawe, the Chief Imam of Owo town   -  
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After gunmen attacked a Catholic church in southwest Nigeria, killing 40 people and wounding more than 60, Owo town's chief imam Ahmad Aladesawe has been holding his prayers in a mostly empty mosque.

The rare attack in the usually more peaceful southwest has scared away worshippers, the imam said.

The tragedy has prompted Aladesawe to reach out to his community and his Christian brethren and build bridges.

Christians and Muslim families in Owo were both affected by the attack. Two of the imam's Christian relatives were wounded, one in the leg and one in the back.

Gunmen used explosives and opened fire as worshippers were finishing Sunday service in Owo in Ondo State, leaving bloodstains and debris scattered inside the church.

Police said they found three unexploded, homemade bombs at the site of the attack.

No group has claimed responsibility for the violence and the motives were not clear, but the attack has shaken both Muslim and Christian communities.

Nigeria is almost equally split between the mostly Christian south and the predominantly Muslim north, and intercommunal tensions often flare-up.

"What happened in Owo was least expected, nobody ever expected it," Aladesawe said.

"I have been trying to speak to my people because the incidents that happen scared away many of them from worshipping in the mosque," he said.

The violence at St. Francis Catholic Church drew widespread international condemnation, including from Pope Francis, who offered prayers for the victims and the country.

The imam visited the church a day after the bloodshed to hand over a donation collected by the town's Muslim community.

But he said he believed the attack would not undermine relations between the two communities.

In the northeast, jihadists sometimes attack churches in their 12-year Islamist insurgency that has left 40,000 dead and two million more displaced.

In Owo, though, communities often live side-by-side, sharing homes and the bond of belonging to the same families.

"My grandfather had five children, three of them Muslim two of them Christian," he said. "We live together in peace."

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