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A rebel militia group in the Central African Republic (CAR) threw grenades into a Catholic church before opening fire on locals sheltering there, slaughtering at least 18 people in the worst attack on Christians in the country this year.
A priest was among those killed in the attack on Wednesday at the church of Our Lady of Fatima in the capital, Bangui. At least 42 people are understood to have been taken hostage, some of whose bodies have since been found. The attack has been blamed on the Seleka militia group.
Those in the church were sheltering from violent clashes between the mostly Muslim Seleka and the nominally Christian “anti-balaka” militia. Displaced Muslims and Christians alike have sought shelter in church compounds across the country.
The Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, said the attackers were foreign jihadists who spoke neither French nor the local Sango.
“The attackers shouted in English ‘open the door’,” he told Fides.
The Vatican missionary news agency Fides named the priest who died as 76-year old Fr Paul-Emile Nzale.
Another cleric, Fr Freddy Mboula, told the Associated Press that he was in the church when shooting was heard outside. He said: "There were screams and after 30 minutes of gunfire there were bodies everywhere”.
Fides reported sources saying that terrorists from Sudan and Nigeria had recently infiltrated the Seleka militia.
The country descended into chaos following a coup by Séléka rebels in March 2013 that ousted long-time President François Bozizé, and order has not been restored despite the 20 January election of Catherine Samba-Panza as interim president.