At least 15 Catholics attending Sunday Mass were killed on Sunday in jihadi-ridden Burkina Faso during a terrorist attack, reported local Church sources.  

The attack occurred in Essakane village in the country’s North-Eastern Oudalan province, a jurisdiction of the Catholic Diocese of Dori bordering Mali and Niger.

According to a media release issued by the Vicar General of diocese on behalf of the Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré, twelve worshippers died at the scene of the attack, while three succumbed to their injuries  and two others are in hospital.

Prayers for the dead for and those who continue to wreak death in the country

In the brief statement, Fr. Jean-Pierre Sawadogo invited the faithful to pray for those “who died in faith, for the healing of the wounded, and for the consolation of grieving hearts.”

The Vicar General also appealed for prayers for the conversion of those who “continue to wreak death and desolation in the country.”

“May our efforts of penance and prayer during this blessed season of Lent obtain peace and security for our country, Burkina Faso,” he wrote.

Another terrorist attack reported in a mosque

On the same day  dozens of Muslim faithful were were killed in another attack on a Mosque in Natiaboani, in eastern Burkina Faso.“Armed individuals attacked a Mosque in Natiaboani on Sunday around 05 am, leaving several dozen people dead,” a security source said. 

Deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the Sahel region

The February 25 attacks are the latest in a long string of atrocities committed by Islamist terrorist groups linked to the so-called  Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the vast Sahel region which also includes Mali and Niger, where terrorism has increased by over 2,000 percent in the last 16 years causing the displacement of millions of people.  

Authorities in the region have been battling against the Islamist terrorist groups since Libya’s civil war in 2011, followed by an Islamist takeover of Northern Mali in 2012. Though the Malian government regained most of the territory in 2013 with the support of French forces the jihadist insurgency has continued even after the military took over in a coup in 2021 , and has spilled over into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso, now also ruled by military juntas.

The devastating impact of the violence on the Church in Burkina Faso

In an interview in 2023 Bishop Birfuoré, who chairs the Joint Bishops’ Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger, (CEBN), told the Catholic foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), that  the consequences of this wave of terrorism have been terrible for the Church.

Apart from sometimes attacking Christian churches, the terrorists also kidnap foreign missionaries, priests, seminarians and men and women religious and a  growing number of parishes ahave been bandoned by the faithful  because of fear of attacks.  

He confirmed that half of the territory is controlled by jihadist groups that want to impose Islam on the whole country. “The terrorists want to eradicate this society and all who do not profess the same brand of Islam, including Muslims, which means that the terrorism is now aimed at society as a whole,” he said.

He went on to identify the jihadist group dubbed “Support Group for Islam and Muslims” as the most notorious in the West African natoion, adding that the group’s “actual goal is to oppress today’s society, which is a multi-religious society of dialogue and coexistence.”

Terrorism-related deaths in the Sahel increasing

According to the 2023 Global Terrorism Index (GTI), terrorism-related deaths in the Sahel represented  43 percent of the global total in 2022, up from just 1 percent in 2007, with Burkina Faso and Mali, accounting  for 73 per cent of terrorism deaths in the Sahel and 52 per cent of all deaths from terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa.

Both countries recorded substantial increases in terrorism, with deaths in Burkina Faso increasing by 50 per cent to 1,135 and in Mali by 56 per cent to 944. Attacks in these countries are also becoming more deadly, with the number of people killed per attack increasing by 48 per cent from 2021.

The escalation in violence in Burkina Faso has also spread to neighbouring countries, with Togo and Benin recording their worst GTI scores on record.

In March last year, a delegation of 10 West African Catholic and Muslim religious leaders from Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Ghana met  the U.S. legislators “to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the Sahel region,” the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the humanitarian arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), reported.