By Linda Bordoni
Both Christians and Muslims were killed in an attack on Sunday in Burkina Faso’s Yagha province.
24 people were killed, including a church pastor, at least 10 were injured, and three others were kidnapped during the raid after which the attackers set fire to a Protestant church.
Authorities said some 20 attackers separated men from women close to the church in Pansy town. They reportedly looted oil and rice from shops and forced the three youth they kidnapped to help transport it on their motorbikes.
The past week has seen an escalation of attacks against religious leaders in the area. Last week, also in Yagha province, a retired pastor was killed and aid workers reported the abduction of another pastor.
Pope Francis’ concern
During his Christmas Day message Pope Francis prayed for "comfort for those who are persecuted for their religious faith, especially missionaries and members of the faithful who have been kidnapped, and for the victims of attacks by extremist groups, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria".
His call for prayers for the victims came on the heels of a similar prayer and an appeal for the promotion of interreligious dialogue in Burkina Faso in November, following an attack during which scores of people were killed or injured.
Increasing violence against Christians
Extremist violence has dramatically escalated in the West African Nation, and analysts have voiced their concern that attacks against civilians, including against Christians, are increasing "at an alarming rate."
The director of “Human Rights Watch” West Africa said "Perpetrators use victims’ links to government or their faith to justify the killings, while others appear to be reprisal killings for killings by the government security forces."
Burkina Faso, bordering Mali and Niger, has seen frequent jihadist attacks which have left hundreds of people dead since the start of 2015 when Islamist extremist violence began to spread across the Sahel region.
Observers say more than 1,300 civilians were killed in targeted attacks last year in Burkina Faso, more than seven times in the previous year.
The insecurity has created a humanitarian crisis with over 760,000 internally displaced people.