(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –An attack on a Catholic church in Burkina Faso, potentially linked to extreme Islamist violence in the country, has killed six people.
Al Jazeera reports that a group of between 20 and 30 armed attackers killed a priest and five worshippers on Sunday, in the northeastern town of Dablo. The assailants also burned down the church itself as well as several local buildings, including a medical facility. According to a government spokesman, they also destroyed businesses that served alcohol.
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.
The effect of the attack on Dablo has been striking, according to its mayor, Ousmane Zongo. Beyond the grief of the affected families and the wider community, Zongo told the AFP the town is gripped with fear.
“The city is filled with panic,” the mayor said. “People are holed up in their homes, nothing is going on. The shops and stores are closed. It’s practically a ghost town.”
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 counterterrorism presence in the area.