YOLA, Nigeria (AP) — Before the usher could finish warning worshippers of the gunmen approaching, the attackers were storming into the church, locking the main door, exploding homemade bombs and firing into the congregation.
The shooting continued as some people scrambled to escape out of windows and through the back door of the sacristy.
Some had their throats slit in last Sunday's attack on St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Wada Chakawa village in northeast Nigeria.
"My brother was slaughtered like ram," said Moses Yohanna whose elder brother died in the attack. "Our lives are threatened and put in danger (and there is) no security."
Rahilla Ibrahim, whose husband and child were among at least 45 people killed, said: "We saw hell. The attackers were merciless." Pregnant and disconsolate, Ibrahim sat in front of the charred mud walls that are all that remain of her hut.
With no family or home left, she sees no point in running. But many other villagers have fled, vowing not to return until their lives can be assured in a 4-year-old Islamic uprising by extremists who want to impose Shariah law across Africa's biggest oil producer, which is divided about equally between Christians and Muslims.
Attacks have continued despite a 8-month-old state of emergency and the deployment of thousands of troops.
Government officials on Friday visited Wada Chakawa, carrying bags of maize and rice and promising more emergency supplies were on the way.
But some villages in northeast Adamawa state have turned into ghost towns with thousands of Christians fleeing attacks by suspected Islamic militants that have killed more than 50 people in the area this week, church leaders said.
The state commissioner for border integration, Hamza Bello, said the state government is worried about the frequent influx of people seeking refuge from neighboring Borno state.
"So far, no fewer than 3,000 people ... have been confirmed to have fled to Adamawa due to the fear of terrorists' attacks," the commissioner said. But attacks in Adamawa are also frequent.
The Rev. Raymond Danboyi, a spokesman for the Catholic diocesee of Yola, said those who have fled are in desperate need of help.
Another church leader, the Rev. Jerome Odineze, said "We are very confused and depressed because there's not much you can do ... The church cannot mobilize and provide security. The resources aren't there."
Lack of security sometimes makes it impossible to worship, he said. "Sometimes you can't have a church service at all. Worship is out of the question in some places."
On Friday, gunmen ransacked the mainly Christian village of Sabon Garin Yamdula in Adamawa, killing a pastor before vigilante youths firing guns set them to flight and soldiers later deployed. Madagali council chairman Ularamu said Saturday the suspected Islamic militants also tried to burn down the village before being driven away. He said the pastor died in the hospital. He could not confirm reports of other casualties.
In a separate attack, police reported that a bus Friday set off an improved explosive device on the highway through nearby Kuthra village, killing seven passengers. Kuthra lies only 18 kilometers (11 miles) across the Adamawa state border in Borno state.
Thousands of Muslims have been killed in such indiscriminate attacks though recently the militants have targeted Christians.
Associated Press writer Carley Petesch contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.