Gunmen killed a priest and five churchgoers during mass Sunday in an attack on a Catholic church in Dablo, northern Burkina Faso, security sources and local official said.
“Towards 9 a.m., 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 gunmen managed to trap some of the worshippers, he added. “They killed five of them. The priest, who was celebrating mass, was also killed, bringing the number of dead to six.”
Burkinabé news agency AIB reported that the gunmen ordered women and children to leave before executing the six men.
The attackers set fire to the church, several shops and a small cafe before heading to the local health centre, which they looted and burnt the chief nurse’s vehicle, said Zongo.
AIB described the businesses burned as “drinking establishments.”
A security source told AFP that between 20 and 30 gunmen were involved in the attack.
Infowakat reported a security source at the scene as saying that the unidentified gunmen were “traveling in pairs on several motorcycles.”
Reinforcements were sent from Barsalogho and were combing the area, a security source told AFP.
Sunday’s attack was the latest carried out against Christian churches in Burkina Faso. In late April, in the first apparent jihadist attack on a church, gunmen killed four worshippers and their Protestant pastor in small the town of Silgadji, northeast of Ouahigouya, which is the largest city in Burkina Faso’s north. Ouahigouya itself was hit with its first “terrorist” attack on May 7, when one person died and two were injured in a gun attack on a toll booth.
The latest incident comes days after the security forces reportedly launched Operation Ndofou – uproot in Fulfulde, a language spoken by Fulani people – targeting armed groups in northern Burkina Faso. Ndofou will cover the Nord, Centre-Nord, and Sahel regions.
And on Friday, two French Navy Special Operations Forces (Commandos Marine) were killed during an operation that freed four foreign hostages in northern Burkina Faso. Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in Benin on May 1, and the rescue team found two other female captives, an American woman and a South Korean.
They two soldiers killed were part of the “Task Force Sabre” unit of France’s Operation Barkhane which is based in Burkina Faso
One of the poorest countries in the world, Burkina Faso has been battling an escalating wave of attacks over the last three years, beginning in the North region near the border with Mali.
The former French colony lies in the heart of the sprawling, impoverished Sahel, on the southern rim of the Sahara desert.
Attacks have spread to the East region, near the border with Togo, Benin and Niger, and to a lesser extent, the west of the country.
Most attacks are attributed to the jihadist group Ansar ul Islam, which emerged near the Mali border in December 2016, and to the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM), which has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
According to a recent Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project analysis, violence by armed groups in Burkina Faso has spiked, with 499 fatalities reported from 124 direct civilian targeting events between November 1 and March 23, representing a 7,000% year-on-year rise.
With reporting from AFP