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Owo Imam Calls for Muslim-Christian Dialogue

FILE: Broken pieces of furniture are seen on the ground, following an attack by gunmen on worshippers during a Sunday service mass at St. Francis Catholic Church, in Owo, Nigeria June 6, 2022

After gunmen attacked a Catholic church in the southwest Nigerian town of Owo on June 5, killing 40 people and wounding more than 60, Owo town's chief imam Ahmad 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 Sunday, June 5 attack. Two of mam Ahmad Aladesawe's Christian relatives were wounded, one in the leg and one in the back.

"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 added.

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, home-made 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.

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

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

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

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."