SHAFAQNA– An attack on a Catholic church in north-central Burkina Faso killed a priest and five worshippers on Sunday morning during mass.
The attackers opened fire on the faithful at the beginning of Mass in the village of Dablo, 90 km from Kaya, according to FRANCE 24’s sister radio station, RFI.
“Towards 9:00am, during mass, armed individuals burst into the Catholic Church,” the mayor of Dablo, Ousmane Zongo, told AFP. “They started firing as the congregation tried to flee.”
The attack is believed to have been carried out by a “group of some twenty to thirty armed men”, according to a security source.
“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,” Mr. Zongo said. “The city is filled with panic. People are holed up at home. Shops and stores are closed. It’s practically a ghost town.”
Condemning the “barbaric and cowardly attack”, the government confirmed the toll of six killed, including a priest.
This marks the third such attack in recent weeks. In April, religious centers in Dori and Silgadji, two other northern towns, were targeted. Four people were killed in Dori, according to a Catholic bishop there, who said armed men also destroyed parts of the town. That attack was followed by the one in Silgadji, where armed forces on motorcycles killed six people at a Protestant church.
No group has taken responsibility for the attacks in Dori and Silgadji, and no one has taken responsibility for the latest attack in Dablo. Recent attacks in the country have been blamed on groups allied with both the Islamic State and al Qaeda, and attacks on religious leaders —both Christian and Muslim — have increased in recent years, as have armed attacks in general; according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, while there were only 29 attacks by extremist groups in 2017, there were 137 in 2018.
The attack in Dablo comes just two days after a French special forces mission rescued four hostages — two French, one South Korean, and one American — in northern Burkina Faso. Two French soldiers were killed in the raid, along with four kidnappers. Like the recent attacks, those kidnappings are believed to be the work of extremists aligned with either the Islamic State or al Qaeda; however, as with the violence, no group has taken responsibility, vox reported.
After “failing to pit communities against each other with targeted killings of traditional chiefs and community leaders, terrorist groups are now attacking religion in an evil plot to divide us”, it said in a statement.
Intelligence agencies tracked their captors across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso, where it appeared they would soon cross the border into Mali.
Officials feared the hostages would be handed over to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM), a jihadist group formed in 2015 that is aligned with al Qaeda in the region. Macron gave the order for the nighttime raid on the militants’ camp on Thursday.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned Sunday’s attack and offered condolences as he cited “the sanctity of all places of worship”, according to a UN spokesman.
Guterres “urges all citizens of Burkina Faso to stand firmly with one another across communities and not to succumb to efforts to sow discord and breed further violence”, france24 told.
Burkina Faso has allied with other nations in the region, including Niger, Chad, and Mali, as it works to fight extremists operating in the country. France, once a colonial power in the region, is supporting these efforts with more than 4,000 troops. The US also has a counter terrorism presence in the area.