Bangui - Eleven people were killed when Muslim gunmen sprayed bullets and hurled grenades at people sheltering in a church in the capital of Central African Republic on Wednesday, witnesses said.
The attack on the Our Lady of Fatima church took place after hours of skirmishes between anti-balaka Christian militia and residents of the nearby Muslim neighbourhood of PK5, locals said.
Federique Nakombo, the general secretary of the Episcopal commission for peace and justice, told Reuters that armed men threw grenades into the church compound and opened fire on the crowd, killing priest Paul Emile Nzale.
The priest of the church, Jonas Bekas, said at least 11 people were killed in the attack, which began at around 3pm local time (14h00 GMT). The church compound was home to about 5 000 Christians displaced by violence, he said.
“The toll will probably be higher because there are many wounded,” Bekas said. “It would have been much worse if the anti-Balaka militia had not come to defend us.”
Fulgence, a displaced person in the church, told Reuters by telephone he had counted at least 28 bodies. A Reuters TV cameraman at the scene also said he saw dozens of bodies being taken away by vehicle.
Peacekeepers from the African Union's Misca peacekeeping force arrived in armoured vehicles to take control of the scene after the attack. A helicopter from France's Sangaris peacekeeping mission flew overhead as dusk fell.
It was the worst attack blamed on Muslims in the capital since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group relinquished power in January, under international pressure, following 10 months of killing and looting.
Since then, most of the attacks in Bangui have been perpetrated by Christians on Muslim residents of PK5. Tensions escalated sharply in the neighbourhood after three Muslims youths were killed and mutilated on Sunday while on their way to play in a reconciliation soccer game. - Reuters