A pastor and at least 23 others were killed and 18 others injured after gunmen attacked a church in northeast Burkina Faso on Sunday. In a neighboring community, a deacon, a pastor, and the pastor’s family were killed by abductors over the weekend.
Col. Salfo Kabore, the regional governor, told AFP that a group of “armed terrorists” attacked a Protestant church in the border village of Pansi in the Yagha province during worship services on Sunday.
Kabore said that gunmen “attacked the peaceful local population, after having identified them and separated them from non-residents.”
The mayor of Boundore commune, Sihanri Osangola Brigadie, told ABC News that about 20 gunmen had attacked the church. Brigadie visited some of the victims at a hospital located about 110 miles from the attack.
"It hurt me when I saw the people," Brigadie was quoted as saying.
A government official who spoke with ABC News on the condition of anonymity said that both Muslims and Christians were killed in the attack and the church was set on fire.
Additionally, the gunmen were said to have kidnapped three minors and forced the youth to help transport oil and rice raided from the town shops.
A resident of Sebba, a nearby town to Pansi, told AFP that fleeing villagers fled to Sebba for safety.
The attack comes as over 4,000 were killed by Islamic extremist attacks in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali in 2019, according to the United Nations envoy for West Africa and the Sahel Mohamed Ibn Chambas.
Since 2016, Islamic 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. Burkina Faso has been at the center of the deadly trend. Chambas told the U.N. Security Council in January that deaths rose in Burkina Faso from 80 in 2016 to 1,800 in 2019.
"Most significantly, the geographic focus of terrorist attacks has shifted eastwards from Mali to Burkina Faso and is increasingly threatening West African coastal states," Chambas warned at the time.
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.
According to Open Doors, a leading Christian persecution watchdog operating in over 60 countries, the attack on the church in Pansi comes just days after an attack on a Christian community in the nearby town of Sebba.
Gunmen reportedly murdered Lankoande Babilibile, a deacon of the Evangelical SIM Church in Sebba, last Tuesday. The gunmen also reportedly used Babilibile’s car to abduct the church’s pastor, Omar Tindano, two of Tindano’s daughters, Tindano’s son and Tindano’s two nephews, according to Open Doors.
On Thursday, Open Doors was informed that that Tindano along with his son and nephews were reportedly executed while his daughters were released.
The attack in Pansi on Sunday was the third attack on a Protestant church in Burkina Faso in addition to a number of attacks on Catholic communities.
Of the attacks on the Protestant churches, Open Doors reports that the attack on the Pansi church was the deadliest.
“Open Doors hears from sources on the ground that the pastor was abducted — now believed to be among those killed — and the church building burned down,” Open Doors reported Monday. “There are several people who have yet to be accounted for.”
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.
Because of the troubling rise of violence in the once peaceful predominantly-Muslim country, Burkin Faso jumped over 30 spots to No. 28 on Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians are most persecuted.
“Burkina Faso is losing the religious tolerance it has otherwise practiced throughout its earlier history,” an Open Doors report on persecution in Burkina Faso reads. “A radicalization of the Islamic population is now taking place. The recent expansion of Islamic militancy in the Sahel region threatens the developing democracy.”
“Radical Islamic groups like AQIM [Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb]and Boko Haram are clearly gaining ground,” the report adds. “Although the government is taking various precautionary measures to prevent the expansion of such groups, it will also need to look for grassroots solutions to combat the growing Islamist influence.”