As many as 20 people were killed when unidentified gunmen attacked a cattle market in Eastern Burkina Faso on Friday, as violent extremist attacks continue to increase across the Sahel region of Africa.
Officials in Burkina Faso have not yet blamed any group for the attack.
"Unidentified armed individuals burst into a cattle market in Namoungou village in the region of Fada N'Gourma and attacked the population," Col. Saidou Sanou, the governor of the eastern region, said in a statement, according to Agence France Press. "According to an initial toll, around 20 people have been killed and numerous others wounded."
Although Burkina Faso was once thought of as a relatively peaceful nation in West Africa, Friday’s attack comes as United Nations data indicates that some 1,800 were killed in terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso in 2019, up from 80 in 2016.
The increase in extremist violence in the country has led to the mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
Violence elsewhere in the Sahel continued in Niger on Sunday when gunmen opened fire in the Giraffe Zone in the southwestern part of the country, killing six French aid workers, a Nigerian driver and a guide.
Among those killed was Kadri Abdou, president of the Association of Giraffe Guides of Koure.
“We are deeply saddened and thinking of the victims and their families to whom we offer our most sincere condolences and especially to the family of Kadri, our friend. May he rest in peace,” the association said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.
French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian vowed on Monday to make those responsible “answer for their acts.”
According to the AP, the French government warned its citizens about traveling outside of Niger’s capital city due to the presence of militants aligned with Islamic extremists groups such as Boko Haram, the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Across the Sahel region — in countries that include Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger — the U.N. reports that terrorist attack casualties have increased five-fold since 2016, with over 4,000 deaths reported in 2019 alone. By comparison, 770 terrorist-casualty deaths were reported in 2016.
According to the U.N., 2019 saw the highest annual death toll due to armed conflict in the Sahel region since 2012.
France deployed over 5,000 troops to help combat the growing Islamic extremism in the Sahel region as part of its Operation Barkhane. Additionally, local fighters from various Sahel countries have also joined forces.
In March, the U.S. State Department named Peter Pham as a new special envoy in charge of monitoring extremist violence in the Sahel region.
In Burkina Faso, violence this year has increased in the country’s eastern region. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project, attacks in Burkina Faso’s eastern region have increased by 75% in 2020. According to an internal security report seen by the AP, there were 11 clashes between Islamic militants and local defense militias in the first week of August.
Sahel researcher Heni Nsaibia told the news agency that violence in Burkina Faso is on track to surpass the violence that occurred there in 2019.
“With a major humanitarian crisis, a swell in militant activities in multiple parts of the country, coupled with the incompetency of security forces, the picture looks quite grim,” Laith Alkhouri, an intelligence specialist who specializes in extremism in West Africa, told the AP.
Burkina Faso was added to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the greatest persecution. The country is ranked as the 28th worst in the world when it comes to Christian persecution while Niger ranks as No. 50.
According to Open Doors, Christians in Burkina Faso were told during some attacks to convert to Islam or die.
"An influx of violent Islamic extremist groups into West Africa’s Sahel region has led to these attacks that killed at least 40 Christians in 2019,” Open Doors reports in a fact sheet. “These groups are campaigning for attacks on believers, with some who want to create an Islamic state opposing the very existence of Christianity.”
In February, a pastor was among dozens killed and injured when gunmen attacked a church in northeast Burkina Faso.
Last Friday’s attack on the cattle market comes after a similar attack on the Kompienbiga cattle market in eastern Burkina Faso left about 30 dead in May.