By Devin Watkins
The latest in a string of terrorist attacks on Christians took place on Sunday morning in northern Burkina Faso.
According to local media, armed men raided the Catholic Church in the town of Toulfe and opened fire during Mass, killing 4 of the faithful and injuring 2 others.
Bishop Justin Kientega, of Ouahigouya, described it as “a terrorist attack”.
A local resident said the attack caused panic in the village, causing residents to seek cover in their homes or in the bush.
Spiral of violence
Last week, attackers killed 4 Catholics taking part in a religious procession in Zimtenga. Earlier in May, gunmen murdered a priest and 5 parishioners in Dablo.
An attack on a Protestant church in Silgadji in late April killed 6 people.
No one has claimed responsibility for the violence, but suspicion has fallen on Islamic militants. The government has laid the blame on unnamed terrorist groups operating throughout the Sahel region. Mali-based Islamic extremists frequently carry out attacks in neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
The upswing in anti-Christian violence is threatening to overturn traditionally peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians in Burkina Faso.
Christians reject inter-religious conflict
Bishop Theophile Nare, of the neighboring Kaya Diocese, told Vatican News that Christians do not want to be locked in a spiral of violence, despite growing insecurity in the region.
“I see this as part of jihadists’ strategy, which is to inflame tensions between [the Christian and Muslim] communities through their actions,” he said. “I think the driving vision is to spark war that is inter-ethnic, inter-religious, and inter-communal.”
But Christians, said Bishop Nare, want to reject the trap of violence that sets Christianity and Islam against one another.
“This is the work of a radicalized group of Muslims,” he said.
According to the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, attacks in the Sahel region have increased from 3 in 2015 to 137 in 2018.