Rebels stormed a Catholic church compound Wednesday in the capital of Central African Republic, killing at least 30 people in a hail of gunfire and grenades, witnesses said.
Islamist fighters from the Seleka coalition, ousted from power nearly five months ago, were blamed for the attack on the compound at the Church of Fatima, where hundreds of civilians had sought refuge from violence ravaging Bangui’s streets.
Catholic churches have served as sanctuaries for Christian and Muslim civilians since the country erupted into sectarian bloodshed in December.
It was feared that the new bloodshed would spark reprisals on the city’s few remaining Muslims, most of whom have fled the city in an exodus this year that the U.N. has described as ethnic cleansing.
“We were in the church when were heard the shooting outside,” the Rev. Freddy Mboula told the Associated Press. “There were screams and after 30 minutes of gunfire there were bodies everywhere.”