Unidentified assailants killed four Catholics and destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary in northern Burkina Faso, a bishop said, the third deadly attack against Christians in the West African country in two weeks.
Paul Ouedraogo, president of the episcopal conference of Burkina Faso and neighbouring Niger, did not provide further details about Monday’s attack in the diocese of Ouahigouya, but it confirms a trend towards increasingly sectarian violence amid a strengthening jihadist insurgency.
The violence 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.
Ouedraogo, addressing bishops in Ouagadougou, said a priest in western Niger was shot in the hand and the leg on Monday but survived.
“All this indicates our West African region is troubled,” he said.
Attacks by groups with links to Islamic State and al Qaeda surged this year in Burkina Faso and across the broader Sahel, an arid expanse of scrubland south of the Sahara desert.
They work to sow ethnic tensions between farming and herding communities in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to boost recruitment from marginalised communities.
No one has claimed responsibility for the church attacks, but after gunmen killed a Catholic priest and five parishioners on Sunday, the government of Burkina Faso blamed “terrorist groups … attacking religion with the macabre aim of dividing us”.
The first church attack was in late April, when gunmen in northern Burkina Faso killed a Protestant pastor and five congregants.
On Monday, the Federation of Islamic Associations of Burkina (FAIB) condemned the previous attacks, calling for all citizens of Burkina Faso “without exception for religion or ethnicity to unite against terrorism”.