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Burkina Faso church attack kills six people, including pastor

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FILE PHOTO Police and paramilitary forces in Ouagadougou, 2017
FILE PHOTO Police and paramilitary forces in Ouagadougou, 2017 -
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FILE PHOTO, 2017/REUTERS/Reuters TV
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Unidentified gunmen killed a pastor and five congregants at a Protestant church in northern Burkina Faso on Sunday, authorities said.

The West African nation has seen an upsurge of jihadist violence this year, but it is the first time a church is targeted.

Government spokesman Remy Fulgance Dandjinou said the attack took place in the commune of Silgadji.

At least two other persons are missing, a security source told AFP.

"The attack took place around 1 p.m. local time, when congregants left the church at the end of the religious service," a witness told AFP."

"The attackers were on motorbikes and fired shots in the air before targeting congregants," the witness said.

Jihadist violence on the rise in Burkina

On Friday (26 April), attackers on motorbikes killed six people in the eastern Koulpego province, including five teachers at a local school.

Dandjinou said on Monday that the latest attack was the first to target a church in the majority Muslim country where religious groups have historically lived together peacefully.

Burkina Faso, which boasts of a history of religious tolerance, has been beset by a rise in attacks as groups based in neighbouring Mali seek to extend their influence over the Sahel, the arid scrubland south of the Sahara.

A total of 350 people have been killed since 2015, according to an AFP tally.

The government declared a state of emergency in several northern provinces bordering Mali in December because of deadly Islamist attacks, including in Soum, the region where Sunday's attack took place.

"Armed groups...have every interest in troubling or going against the good understanding between religions. We have observed this strategy in other countries in the region and in the world," said Rinaldo Depagne, West Africa Project Director at International Crisis Group.

Around 55 to 60 percent of Burkina Faso's population is Muslim, roughly 20-25 percent are Christian and the rest follow indigenous religions, according to the US State Department.