OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Gunmen killed a priest and five churchgoers during mass Sunday in an attack on a Catholic church in Dablo, northern Burkina Faso, security sources and a local official said.
“Towards 9 a.m., during mass, armed individuals burst into the Catholic church,” the mayor of Dablo, Ousmane Zongo, told AFP. “They started firing as the congregation tried to flee.”
The attackers — between 20 and 30 according to a security source — managed to trap some of the worshipers, Zongo added. “They killed five of them. The priest, who was celebrating mass, was also killed, bringing the number of dead to six.”
The gunmen then set fire to the church, several shops, and a small cafe, before heading to the local health center, which they looted, burning the chief nurse’s vehicle.
“There is an atmosphere of panic in the town,” said Zongo.
“People are holed up in their homes. Nothing is going on. The shops and stores are closed. It’s practically a ghost town,” he added.
Security reinforcements were sent from Barsalogho, about 45 kilometers (30 miles) south of Dablo, and were combing the area, a security source told AFP.
The attack came two days after French special forces freed four foreign hostages in the north of the country in an overnight raid that cost the lives of two soldiers.
The operation was ordered to free French hostages Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas who disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in Benin on May 1.
The team also found two other female captives, an American woman and a South Korean.
Sunday’s church strike came two weeks after a similar attack against a Protestant church in Silgadji, also in the north, when gunmen on motorbikes killed a pastor and several worshipers.
Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
Nearly 400 people have been killed since 2015 — mainly in hit-and-run raids — according to an AFP tally.
Jihadist groups target both Muslim and Christian clerics, mainly in the north.
Former colonial ruler France has deployed some 4,500 troops in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in a mission code-named Barkhane to help local forces try to flush out jihadist groups.