Several gunmen burst into a Catholic Church Sunday morning in north-central Burkina Faso, killing six, including the church’s priest as he celebrated Mass.
The gunmen then burned the church, the BBC reports, as well as nearby shops and stands, and a government health office.
“The attackers opened fire on the faithful at the beginning of Mass in the village of Dablo, 90 km from Kaya,” France24 radio reported early Sunday morning, adding that the group of gunmen may have included as many as “twenty to thirty men.”
“Towards 9:00am, during mass, armed individuals burst into the Catholic Church,” the mayor of Dablo, Ousmane Zongo, told international press in a statement. “They started firing as the congregation tried to flee.”
“They burned down the church, then shops and a small restaurant before going to the health centre where they searched the premises and set fire to the head nurse’s vehicle,” Zongo added. “The city is filled with panic. People are holed up at home. Shops and stores are closed. It’s practically a ghost town.”
The BBC reports that this is the fourth such attack on a Christian church in Burkina Faso in less than a month, and France 24 adds that terror attacks within the African nation have been on a dramatic rise in 2019, due in part to the growing influence of radical Islam, including “jihadist groups such as Ansarul Islam, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (EIGS).”
Sunday morning’s attack is also the second such attack on a Catholic church in less than two weeks.
The terror groups have been operating within the country since around 2015, but the deadly violence began to spike recently, leaving dozens dead in a series of attacks within the country, many on Christians.
Just days ago, four hostages, including an American, a Korean, and two tourists from France, were rescued in a harrowing mission that cost two French soldiers their lives. The foreigners, who were kidnapped while on a trip through a nature preserve on the border between Burkina Faso and Mali, were held for nearly a month before they were rescued.
French special forces staged the daring rescue last week, heading off the kidnappers and their hostages as they made the journey north into Mali, presumably so that the kidnappers could turn over the foreigners to more powerful jihadi groups.
“French special forces soldiers Cédric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello died during the raid,” the BBC reported, as did a local driver. The hostages are now safe and are making their way to France.
Reuters reports that Burkina Faso was at one time well known for being a bastion of religious tolerance in Africa, but that has made it a prime target of jihadists who are looking to destabilize functioning governments on the continent, specifically “Burkina and the wider Sahel region.”
The United States announced earlier in May that it would double down on efforts to support the government of Burkina Faso and would provide Burkina Faso’s military with guidance on how to better train and manage troops and increase security around key targets.