The Tablet Staff
After a peaceful Sunday morning church service in the remote town of Dablo, Burkina Faso, a group of 20 gunmen presumed to be jihadists surrounded the church, and shot and killed six worshippers, including a parish priest.
According to an eyewitness account shared with Vatican News, the priest, Father Simeon Yamp, was likely the main target of the shooters, who chased him down before killing him.
Gunmen then forced all of the parishioners in the area back into the church, ordered them to lie on the ground and killed five parishioners at random.
The group also set fire to the church before leaving the scene. They subsequently burnt down local businesses in Dablo before fleeing to the nearby nation of Mali, Dablo Mayor Ousmane Zongo said in an interview with Reuters.
A government spokesman for Burkina Faso’s Sahel region told the Associated Press that a health center, as well as businesses that sold alcohol, was also targeted and lit aflame following the shooting, leaving the town decimated and devastated.
This news comes at a time when persecution against Christians in West Africa is on the rise. While more than half of Burkina Faso’s population is Muslim, as much as a quarter of the country is Christian, according to Vatican News.
Although the two faiths experience a mostly quiet coexistence, attacks on churches of Western religions continue to come from bordering countries such as Mali. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies reported that violence in the region linked to both al Qaeda and ISIS has increased since 2017.
Between 2017 and 2018, the United Nations has seen more than 100,000 people displaced by jihadist violence in Burkina Faso. The small country has also seen attacks on a Protestant church and terrorism-linked kidnappings in the last two weeks alone.
“Terrorist groups are now attacking religion with the macabre aim of dividing us,” Burkina Faso government officials said in a statement.
Pope Francis and Vatican officials expressed similar sentiments and mourned the lives lost. “The Holy Father has learned with sorrow about the news of the attack on the church in Dablo, Burkina Faso. He prays for the victims, for their families and for the entire Christian community in the country,” Vatican spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti said in a tweet.
While the attack had the marks of jihadists, the names of those responsible for the shooting remain unknown as of Monday.