By: Stephanie Martin
In the latest attack on civilians in Burkina Faso, gunmen killed 24 people—including a pastor—on Sunday and wounded 18 more. The violence occurred near a Protestant church in the town of Pansi, in Yagha province. About 20 gunmen killed Christians as well as Muslims, and then set the church on fire.
A week earlier, suspected jihadists in the West African country abducted seven people from a pastor’s house; five bodies—including the pastor’s—were later recovered.
Sunday’s attack took place during a weekly worship service, according to regional governor Colonel SalfoKaboré. He described “armed terrorists” attacking “the peaceful local population, after having identified them and separated them from non-residents.”
The gunmen also looted rice and oil from local shops and kidnapped three young people to help them transport the goods via motorbike.
After visiting some of the wounded victims in a hospital about 110 miles away, Mayor SihanriOsangolaBrigadie said, “It hurt me when I saw the people.”
Targeted attacks have become increasingly common in Burkina Faso, leading to a humanitarian crisis. In 2019, more than 1,300 citizens were killed, a seven-fold increase from 2018. The resulting fear has led to the internal displacement of more than 760,000 people.
Corinne Dufka, regional director for Human Rights Watch, says the attacks, often aimed at Christians, have grown at “an alarming rate.” She explains, “Perpetrators use victims’ links to government or their faith to justify the killings, while others appear to be reprisal killings for killings by the government security forces.”
Open Doors, which lists Burkina Faso 28th on its latest World Watch List of persecuted Christians, notes that fear prevents many Christians from attending worship or sending children to school. “Christians of Muslim background are the most persecuted Christian group in the country,” the group states. “Family and community members reject them and attempt to force them to renounce their Christian faith.” Of Burkina Faso’s 19 million residents, about two-thirds are Muslim and one-third are Christian.
Though the former French colony had a lengthy history of religious tolerance, Burkina Faso has been affected by “spillover” fighting in neighboring Mali, where Islamist militants seized control. The impoverished nation also has high unemployment and failing infrastructure.
Severe droughts amplify the crisis in West Africa, where an estimated 70 percent of people rely on agriculture and livestock for sustenance. “This is an area that is being first and hardest hit by climate change,” says Alice Hunt Friend at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The economies in these regions are very, very difficult, and so militancy is one answer for a lot of young men.” Hunt Friend is among the experts pushing back against proposed U.S. troop withdrawals from West Africa.
Jihadist terrorism throughout Africa’s Sahel region concerns Pope Francis, who prayed in his Christmas message that Jesus would “bring comfort to…the victims of attacks by extremist groups, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria.”
Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 27 years.