Less than a month after an attack on a Protestant Church in the western African nation of Burkina Faso that claimed the lives of six Christians, another attack has occurred. Six people were killed in a Catholic Church in Dablo, including the priest, Father Simeon Yampa.
According to the Burkina Information Agency, the attackers “ordered the women and children to clear the scene before executing six men, including the priest.”
In similar fashion to the attack on the Protestant church in April, the attackers came on motorcycles and interrupted the service. A security source speaking to Agence-France Presse said the attackers were comprised of “some 20 to 30 armed men.”
The mayor of Dablo, Ousmane Zongo, disclosed the attack occurred around 9:00 a.m. local time on Sunday, May 12, 2019. “They started firing as the congregation tried to flee,” Zongo explained. Dablo is located in the central part of the country.
In addition to targeting people in the church, the men set fire to the building and burned it down. They continued to wreak havoc in the town by setting fire to shops and a restaurant. They also went to a local health centre and set fire to the head nurse’s vehicle. Their actions have caused the people in the town to panic. “The city is filled with panic. People are holed up at home. Shops and stores are closed. It’s practically a ghost town,” Zongo said.
Jihadists Are Trying to Inflame Religious Tensions in Sahel Region
The majority of Burkina Faso’s population is Muslim, although Christians make up a significant portion (25 percent). A statement released by the government indicates government leaders believe the armed attackers, which are affiliated with jihadist groups such as Ansarul Islam, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), and the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (EIGS), are trying to incite religious tensions and create instability in the region.
After “failing to pit communities against each other with targeted killings of traditional chiefs and community leaders, terrorist groups are now attacking religion in an evil plot to divide us,” the government’s statement says.
Last month’s attack that took place at a church building was a first of its kind for the area, although attacks on religious leaders have been going on for some time. It appears the jihadists are stepping up their fear tactics by targeting not just leaders, but anyone who steps into a church building.
Violence has been increasing in Burkina Faso (particularly in the northern area bordering Mali) since 2015. TRT World reports priests and imams have been killed or kidnapped by the jihadists at alarming rates. Imams who are considered by the jihadists not to be sufficiently radical are targeted because they are suspected of collaborating with authorities. The threat of terrorism is rising so rapidly, CNN reported the U.S. was considering taking steps to intervene. The UN is reporting that the area of Africa known as the Sahel region (of which Burkina Faso is a part) has seen millions of residents flee their homes in recent years because of the escalating violence. They are referring to the violence as a “crisis.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres offered condolences to those touched by the violence and reiterated the UN’s belief in “the sanctity of all places of worship.”
The priest who was killed is being remembered as a kind-hearted man. “Fr. Simeon Yampa was a humble person, obedient and full of love, he loved his parishioners,” Bishop Théophile Nare told reporters.