Gunmen have shot dead a priest and five worshipers outside a Catholic church in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, according to local officials.
The congregants were ambushed by 20 to 30 armed men and killed as they were leaving Sunday morning mass, Boucary Zongo, mayor of the northern town of Dablo where the attack took place, and a witness told Reuters.
“They made everyone lie down, executed 5 before torching the church,” one witness told local media.
The attackers proceeded to set the church alight, then ransack a nearby pharmacy and some other stores they also torched before fleeing the scene roughly an hour and a half after they arrived.
Urbain Kabore, a government spokesman for the West African country’s Sahel region, said the attackers were intent on destroying places that served alcohol.
Mr Zongo said there was an “atmosphere of panic in the town”.
“People are holed up in their homes, nothing is going on. The shops and stores are closed. It’s practically a ghost town,” he said.
Security reinforcements were called in from Barsalogho, about 45km south of Dablo, where the attack took place, and were combing the area.
Residents were angry with nearby soldiers who they say did not act quickly enough, BBC reported.
Sunday’s church bloodshed comes two days after a raid led by French armed forces in northern Burkina Faso rescued four hostages who were on their way to be transferred to an Islamist militant group in Mali.
Two French soldiers were killed in the operation, France said.
Burkina Faso has been beset by a rise in attacks in 2018 as groups with links to Islamic State and al-Qaeda based in neighbouring Mali seek to extend their influence over the porous borders of the Sahel, the arid scrubland south of the Sahara.
A protestant church in Silgadji, also in the north, experienced a similar attack two weeks ago when gunmen killed a pastor and several congregants.
The government declared a state of emergency in several northern provinces bordering Mali in December because of deadly Islamist attacks.
Nearly 400 people have been killed since 2015 – mainly in hit-and-run raids.
Roughly 55 per cent to 60 per cent of Burkina Faso’s population is Muslim, with up to a quarter Christian. The two groups generally live in peace and frequently intermarry.
Then in late April unidentified gunmen killed a pastor and five congregants at a Protestant church, also in the north, suggesting the violence was taking a religious turn.