Father Simeon Yampa killed in Sunday's attack. Image via CNN
The interim director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Alessandro Gisotti, has posted a tweet expressing the grief of Pope Francis. He said, “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.”
The attack took place in the small town of Dablo, about 200 kilometres north of the capital, Ouagadougou.
The faithful were leaving church around 9 a.m. when about 20 suspected jihadists on motorcycles encircled the church.
From reports by eyewitnesses, it appears that their target was the 34-year old Burkinabe priest, Father Simeon Yampa, in charge of interreligious dialogue in his diocese. When he tried to escape, the terrorists chased and killed him.
Returning to the church, they forced the faithful to lie on the ground, picked out five of them and shot them.
Dablo mayor, Ousmane Zongo, told Reuters the attackers then burned the church, looted a pharmacy and some other stores, and left.
No one has claimed responsibility but the attacks bore the hallmarks of Islamic extremists who are known to be active in the area.
Surge in terrorism
Zongo said that the town is “filled with panic” and citizens are “holed up at home.”
A government statement said that “terrorist groups are now attacking religion with the macabre aim of dividing us."
It is the second attack on Christians in two weeks in the West African nation increasingly overrun by jihadists.
On April 29, a Protestant church was attacked, killing a Protestant pastor along with five faithful in Silgadji, in the province of Soum. The attackers then fled by motorbike to Mali, whose border is only a hundred kilometres away.
The attack in Dablo came two days after an operation by French forces released four hostages kidnapped in Burkina last week. Two French soldiers were killed in action.
Roughly 55% to 60% of Burkina Faso's population is Muslim, with up to a quarter Christian, mostly Catholic. The two groups generally live in peace, but the nation has been increasingly destabilized by jihadists from across the border in Mali. Attacks have included the kidnapping of foreigners.
A report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies has pointed out that the number of violent incidents in the West African country linked to the local affiliates of al Qaeda and ISIS rose from 24 in 2017 to 136 in 2018.
Over 100,000 people in Burkina Faso have been displaced by the unrest this year, the United Nations has said.