THE 14 churchgoers shot dead by extremists in a village in Burkina Faso on Sunday were the latest victims of widespread Christian persecution in West Africa, a pastor in the country has said.
The attackers, who have not yet been identified, reportedly opened fire on the congregation during a service at a Protestant church in Hantoukoura, in the east of the country. Several people were also wounded.
Pastor Samuel Sawadogo, who cares for displaced Christians in the city of Kaya, said: “We don’t know who the attackers are. All we know is that they attack Christians. We are troubled and filled with pain over the deaths of our family members.”
At least 41 Christians have been killed in jihadist attacks this year (News, 19 June).
A senior analyst on West Africa for the charity Open Doors, Illia Djadi, said: “People are living in fear. The northern parts of the country have fallen into the hands of several Islamic militants, and they have created a space that seems to be operating like an Islamic state. There are severe punishments for behaviour they regard as sinful.”
Not all of the attacks are religiously motivated, however, he said. “Many factors, including political, economic, tribal, and religious, fuel violence in Burkina Faso. It has become vulnerable to the instability that plagues the greater Sahel region. A number of Islamic terrorist groups have easy access to Burkina Faso from their bases in neighbouring Mali.”
Islamist militants took over the north of Mali in 2012, before French troops pushed them out. Jihadist attacks have increased in Burkina Faso since 2015, having spread across the border. Thousands of schools have been forced to close.
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said: “It is an attack on our one human family when people cannot gather to worship without fearing for their lives.
“We extend condolences to those who lost loved ones, to those living in fear and who suffer under the lack of freedom of religion, and to the many people displaced because they are in imminent and constant danger.”
In October, 15 people were killed in an attack on a mosque in Burkina Faso.