Gunmen killed a Catholic priest and abducted five worshippers in two separate attacks in central and northwestern Nigeria on Sunday, AFP has learned from police sources.
Around 02:00 GMT in the village of Kafin-Koro (centre), in Niger State, armed individuals locally referred to as "bandits" set fire to the residence of a priest, who was burned to death, said Wasiu Biodun, spokesman for the police in the state.
They set fire to the house of Father Isaac Achi, after failing to gain access. "Unfortunately, the bandits set the house on fire, while the said Reverend Father was burnt alive," he said.
The assailants shot and wounded another priest as he tried to escape: "The lifeless body of Father Isaac was recovered while Father Collins was rushed to hospital for treatment," the spokesman added.
In another attack a few hours later, "bandits" broke into a house in the village of Dan Tsauni (Kankara district, northwest), Katsina State, and abducted five worshippers preparing to attend Sunday mass in a nearby church.
"The terrorists seized five people in the house, shot a priest in hand and fled with the five hostages," state police spokesman Gambo Isa told AFP.
The priest was taken to hospital for treatment, he added.
Nigerian authorities are struggling to stem rising violence in the north and central regions where armed groups target rural communities, killing thousands and abducting people to ransom. Residents said that security forces are often outnumbered and outgunned and suspects are seldom detained.
The attacks sometimes target religious figures such as clerics. In July last year, Rev. John Mark Chietnum was killed after he was kidnapped in the northwestern Kaduna state.
Sunday's incident sparked international condemnation. In a statement, Antonio Tajani, the Italian foreign minister, called the attack "cowardly and inhuman."
Niger state Gov. Abubakar Sani Bello said the killing signalled that no one was safe. "These terrorists have lost it and drastic action is needed to end this ongoing carnage," he said.
Nigeria's Christian Association has asked authorities to investigate and do more to protect civilians. "Enough of the attacks and wanton killings of innocent Nigerian citizens," said Bulus Yohanna, the association's chairman.