By BosNewsLife Africa Service with additional reporting by Linda Bordoni in Vatican City and Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center
OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO (BosNewsLife)–Suspected Islamic gunmen interrupted a weekly worship service at a Protestant church in northern Burkina Faso, killing 24 people, authorities confirmed late Monday, February 17. Another 18 people were wounded in Sunday’s attack rocking Pansy town in Yagha province, the regional governor said.
“The armed terrorists attacked the peaceful local population, after having identified them and separated them from non-residents,” added the governor, Colonel Salfo Kaboré. “The provisional toll is 24 killed, including the pastor … 18 wounded and
individuals who were kidnapped,” Kaboré added in published remarks.
Authorities said some 20 attackers separated men from women close to the church in Pansy. The church building was burned down, and several people were yet to be accounted for, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
The gunmen reportedly also looted oil and rice from shops and forced the three youth they kidnapped to help transport it on their motorbikes. A resident of the nearby town of Sebba, whose name was not identified for security reasons, said Pansy villagers had fled there for safety.
It was the latest in an escalation of Islamic attacks against devoted Christians and moderate Muslims in the area in recent days. Last week, also in Yagha province, evangelical church leaders and several family members were killed, aid workers confirmed.
On February 10, suspected Islamic militants in Sebba seized seven people at the home of a pastor.
“In the early hours of February 11, the deacon of the Evangelical SIM Church, Lankoandé Babilibilé, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in Sebba…”, said well-informed advocacy group Open Doors. “His car was stolen and used to abduct Pastor Omar Tindano of the same church, along with two of Omar’s daughters, his son and two nephews. Yesterday, the news broke that Omar, his son, and his nephews had all been executed,” the group explained.
“His daughters were released, physically unharmed, on the same day,” Open Doors added. All five bodies have been recovered, local authorities said.
Lankoandé helped establish the first churches in the Sebba region, while Omar was the president of the Sebba region of the Evangelical Church denomination, Open Doors confirmed. Separately, shooters reportedly attacked an evangelical church in the eastern town of Nagnounbougou. At least two believers were killed in that attack, Christians said.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis expressed concern about the attacks. He urged prayers for the victims after making a similar request and appeal for interreligious dialogue in Burkina Faso in November, following an attack that killed or injured scores of people.
Church observers and activists say attacks against civilians, including Christians, are increasing “at an alarming rate” in the West African nation
Open Doors said Burkina Faso is now ranking 28th on its annual World Watch List of 50 nations where it is most challenging to be a Christian.
Violent attacks account for this enormous rise, it stressed. “Christians in these areas require urgent prayer and support,” said
Illia Djadi, an Open Doors senior analyst on freedom of religion or belief in sub-Saharan Africa. “They are traumatized and don’t know how to handle all this violence. Even close friends and members of SIM church are reluctant to share details with reporters, fearing further targeting.”
Open Doors investigators noted a climate of fear for believers in Burkina Faso.
The advocacy group Human Rights Watch West Africa said: “Perpetrators use victims’ links to government or their faith to justify the killings.” Others “appear to be reprisal killings for killings by the government security forces,” it added.
Nearly 4,000 people were killed in jihadist attacks in Burkina Faso and neighboring Mali and Niger last year, according to United Nations estimates.
Observers say more than 1,300 civilians were killed in targeted attacks 2019 in Burkina Faso, more than seven times in the previous year.
The insecurity has created a humanitarian crisis with an estimated over 760,000 internally displaced people in the Muslim-majority nation. Refugees also face other challenges as Burkina Faso is an impoverished nation, even by West African standards. The landlocked country of 21 million people has also suffered from recurring droughts and military coups.
French-educated Roch Marc Kabore, who served as prime minister and speaker of parliament under veteran President Blaise Compaore, won the November 2015 presidential election, with promises of reforms.
But concerns over the economy and rights violations have overshadowed Kabore’s pledges to introduce changes in Burkina Faso, which means “land of honest men”, and has significant reserves of gold.
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