At least 58 people, including children, were recently killed in northern Burkina Faso in three separate attacks by armed Islamic militants who were targeting Christians.
Christians were among those targeted and killed in the attacks that took place in the provinces of Loroum, Kompienga and Sanmatenga within 24 hours, from May 29 to May 30, according to the U.K.-based aid agency Barnabus Fund.
The group said a local source spoke to a survivor, who said the militants targeted Christians and humanitarians taking food to a camp of internally displaced people with many Christian villagers who had fled before the violence.
Referring to an attack on a humanitarian convoy in Sanmatenga province’s Barsalogho area, which left six civilians and seven soldiers dead, the survivor said, “The driver shouted ‘forgive, forgive, we are also followers of the [Islamic] prophet Muhammad.’ One of them [among the gunmen] turned to the other attackers and said, ‘they have the same religion with us.’”
The attack subsequently ended, the charity said.
Apart from the attack in Sanmatenga, militants opened fire indiscriminately at a cattle market in Kompienga on May 30, killing at least 30 people. The day before, a convoy of traders, which included children, was attacked while traveling from Titao to Sollé in Loroum province.
Dozens were injured in the three attacks.
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Last December, at least 14 people were killed when gunmen stormed a Protestant church service in the town of Hantoukoura near the border with Niger. Last April, gunmen killed a Protestant pastor and five other Christians who were leaving a worship service in Silgadji.
Burkina Faso, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, has been fighting armed groups with links to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State for more than four years.
Over 4,000 people were killed in Islamic extremist attacks in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali in 2019, according to the U.N.'s envoy for West Africa and the Sahel Mohamed Ibn Chambas.
Since 2016, extremist groups including the Islamic State West Africa Province and Ansaroul Islam have carried out attacks throughout the Sahel region of West Africa. But attacks increased fivefold in 2019 — deaths rose from 80 in 2016 to 1,800 in 2019.
Jihadist violence has now spread from the country’s north to the western Boucle du Mouhoun region where rice and maize are produced and transported to other areas, resulting in a food shortages and might cut off food for millions more in the region, according to The Associated Press.
It is feared that the COVID-19 pandemic might exacerbate the situation at a time when 2 million people in the country are already facing food insecurity.
“If production goes down in this area and if movement restrictions due to the coronavirus drive up food prices in the markets, it could push numbers of severely vulnerable people to double or triple,” Julia Wanjiru, communications coordinator for the Sahel and West Africa Club, an intergovernmental economic group, was quoted as saying.
According to the U.N., the number of people displaced in Burkina Faso rose 1,200 percent in 2019. There are about 600,000 internally displaced people in the country as it is becoming one of the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian crises.