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At least 24 killed in church mass shooting in Burkina Faso

The Independent logo The Independent 2/17/2020 Samuel Lovett
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At least 24 people have been killed after gunmen attacked a church in northern Burkina Faso, according to officials.

The attack, which left a further 18 people wounded, took place during a Sunday mass service in the village of Pansi in the Yagha region.

A group of “armed terrorists” entered the Protestant church and “attacked the peaceful local population, after having identified them and separated them from non-residents”, the government said in a statement on Monday.

“The provisional toll is 24 killed, including the pastor … 18 wounded and individuals who were kidnapped,” it added.

A local mayor said that the attackers looted oil and rice from shops, and forced three young people, who they kidnapped, to help transport it on their motorbikes.

It remains unclear who was responsible for the attack, which comes as jihadist groups with links to al-Qaeda and Islamic State seek to gain control over once peaceful rural Burkina Faso, fuelling ethnic and religious conflict.

Hundreds have died over the past year, and over half a million people have fled their homes amid the rising violence.

Christian communities have been targeted in a number of attacks, which have seen the assassinations of pastors and priests, while many Muslims have also been killed. Last October, gunmen stormed a mosque during Friday prayers and killed 15 people.

Such bloodshed threatens to upend traditionally peaceful relations between Burkina Faso’s majority Muslim community and its Christians, who represent up to a quarter of the population.

“Perpetrators use victims’ links to government or their faith to justify the killings, while others appear to be reprisal killings for killings by the government security forces,” Corinne Dufka, western Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said.

More than 1,300 civilians were killed in targeted attacks last year in Burkina Faso, seven times the previous year, according to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a non-governmental organisation specialising in conflict data collection.

Government figures estimate that 760,000 people have been internally displaced as a result of the growing violence and insecurity.

Attacks by jihadists groups have surged across the broader Sahel region, an arid expanse of scrubland just south of the Sahara desert.

They have worked to sow ethnic tensions between farming and herding communities in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in order to boost recruitment among marginalised communities.

Additional reporting by agencies

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