A Christian church elder and father of seven is believed to be among the six aid workers massacred during an ambush by armed militants in the Central African Republic.
World Watch Monitor reports that 66-year-old Gabriel Ole, who served as a church elder for a Baptist church in the capital of Bangui, lost his life during the attack that occurred in the northeastern border town of Markounda on Feb. 25.
The other victims killed were also CAR citizens. They included an education consultant for the United Nations Children's Fund, two officials with the country's education ministry, and three employees of a local UNICEF partner.
According to local sources who spoke with World Watch Monitor, some of the victims were shot, while militants slit the throats of others. In addition, their car was torched.
"We strongly condemn this senseless act against aid workers who were there to improve the lives of the most vulnerable populations," a UNICEF statement on the attack states. "We offer our deepest condolences to the families and the colleagues of the victims."
The victims of the attack were honored on Tuesday when CAR Prime Minister Simplice Matthieu Sarandji visited Markounda.
"School is the key to developing a country," the prime minister said. "Any attack against teachers is a crime against the education of our children."
Although UNICEF hasn't named the culprits of the attack, World Watch Monitor reports that the assailants are believed to be affiliated with the Mouvement National de Libération de Centrafrique, an outfit of the Séléka rebel faction that has troubled the nation since 2013.
Bishop Juan José Aguirre-Muñoz of Bangassou recently described CAR is a "failed state."
According to the charity Aid to the Church in Need, the bishop told the 37th Ordinary Session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva earlier this week that ever since the arrival of the fundamentalist Islamic Séléka group in 2013, the country has been "without an army, without police, without a judicial system."
"The people are tired, abandoned, left to themselves. Entire neighborhoods have been razed to the ground because the Muslim mercenaries have used fire as a weapon of war. Almost a million refugees are currently sheltering in the Congo," the bishop explained. "Over half the population are in need of food aid, and infant mortality has increased considerably as a result of the war and violence. The educational system has not been functioning for years, and the health system is non-existent. Our medical center in the north of the diocese has been destroyed, along with our mission. Now nothing is left but the foundations."
CAR ranks as the 35th-worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to persecution watchdog Open Doors USA.
"The [civil war] in CAR has resulted in violence and atrocities toward Christians at the hands of militant groups on both sides of the conflict. Gathering for worship is dangerous, as church buildings are sometimes burned and ransacked," Open Doors reports. "Numerous church leaders have been violently attacked. Thousands of Christians have been displaced as a result of the conflict, forced to relocate to camps and relinquish their livelihoods."
The attack on the aid workers in Markounda comes after 10 Red Cross aid workers were killed, among dozens of others, during an attack carried out by Séléka militants in the town of Gambo in August last year.
Despite the persecution, the Catholic Church has provided shelter to numerous displaced Muslims.
"We have held out the hand of friendship to those who attacked us, because that is what the Church does," Aguirre-Muñoz said.