Recent attacks on Christians in Burkina Faso have killed many Christians, and resulted in the displacement of more than 135,000 people and the closure of hundreds of churches and church schools. Pictured: The Cathedral of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. (Image source: kyselak/Wikimedia Commons)
The extremist attacks on Christians in the Muslim-majority West African country of Burkina Faso are not only a cause of great concern, but indicate that terrorist groups in the Middle East, such as ISIS, have not been defeated; they have moved their operations elsewhere.
Terrorism — committed by armed groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Mourabitoun, Ansar al-Dine, Ansar-ul-Islam lil-Ichad wal Jihad, Boko Haram, Islamic State in Greater Sahara and the Macina Liberation Front — has resulted in the displacement of more than 135,000 people in Burkina Faso, two-thirds of them since the beginning of this year. Their violence also has led to the closure of many schools.
According to a September 18 report by the international Catholic organization, Aid to the Church in Need:
“The most recent villages to have been abandoned are those of Hitté and Rounga, where the inhabitants were given an ultimatum by the Islamist terrorists, who ordered them to convert to Islam or abandon their homes. A source, who requested anonymity, said: ‘They are by no means the only ones facing this situation, rather they are just part of a program by the jihadists who are deliberately sowing terror, assassinating members of the Christian communities and forcing the remaining Christians to flee after warning them that they will return in three days’ time — and that they do not wish to find any Christians or catechumens still there.'”
The rise in terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso followed the 2014 fall of its long-ruling dictator, Blaise Compaoré. Four years later, in December 2018, a state of emergency was declared in the country’s northern provinces. So far, however, Burkina Faso’s security forces have been unable to prevent attacks on Christians, who have been living in constant fear and danger.
A recent report by the human-rights group, Open Doors, claims that the situation has grown so dire that Christians in Burkina Faso are in “a fight for survival.” According to the report:
“One resident in the eastern region testified of increasing Sharia law: ‘At 6 p.m., everyone has to go to the mosque, then straight home. In the middle of the night, you must go and listen to sermons. You’re forbidden to criticize them. Women have to cover their heads. There’s no talk of cigarettes, alcohol or music, no celebrations … If you smoke, at first they just tell you not to. The third time, they kill you. They’ve forbidden prostitution in the [gold] mines — they slit their throats. They kill someone about once a month, I’d say, and it’s always people they’ve warned. Except the prostitutes. They don’t warn them. They just kill them.’
“During the Open Doors team visit, teachers told us: ‘The Jihadists are replacing state schools with Arabic schools. We received severe warning to leave. The government succeeded in relocating some pupils and teachers to safer areas.’
“The impact has been great on the church specifically. Open Doors has been told that an unknown number of pastors and their families have been kidnapped and remain in captivity. The increased insecurity has caused great fear among the Christian population.
“More than 200 churches have been closed in northern parts of the country to avoid further attacks. Holding Sunday worship services has been discouraged in most rural areas.
“‘The jihadists started threatening the church, sending warnings to stop worship services in the communities of Arbinda, Dablo, Djibo, Kongoussi and others,’ our team reported. ‘At first, they were against the mode of worship in the churches where women and men gathered in the same church. Then, in no time, the believers were warned not to hold any Christian worship services.’
“More than 5,000 pastors and church members have been forced into Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps or are taking refuge with family and friends in the south, central regions or in the capital city of Ouagadougou.
“People fled with little more than the clothes on their backs, our team reports. Most church schools in the north have been closed. Many Christian children are out of school and cannot afford school fees in their new areas.
“Throughout the country, churches are arranging food collection to support the affected believers but are unable to keep up with the need.”
The following is a list, compiled by Open Doors, of the attacks on Christian clergy and worshipers between February and May this year alone:
- On February 15, Father Antonio Cesar Fernandez (72) was killed at Nohao.
- On February 19, Pastor Jean Sawadogo (54) from a local church in Tasmakatt was killed on the road between Tasmakatt and Gorom-Gorom.
- On April 23, Pastor Elie Zoré, leader of the Assemblies of God Church of Bouloutou, was killed near the town of Arbinda.
- On April 28, six Christians were killed — including Pastor Pierre Ouedraogot — at a church in Silgadji near Djibo.
- On May 12, six Christians were killed, including a priest, Father Siméon Yampa, by between 20 and 30 gunmen who stormed the Catholic Church in Dablo during mass.
- On May 13, four Christians were killed in Singa.
- On May 26, four worshipers were killed in an attack on the Toulfe Catholic Church.
More recently, between the months of June and September, the following massacres were perpetrated in Burkina Faso, according to International Christian Concern (ICC):
- Two terrorist attacks, which took place on June 9 and 10 in the towns of Arbinda and Namentenga, left 29 Christians dead.
- On July 25, terrorists attacked the village of Diblou, killing 15 people.
- On August 19, a large-scale attack against the military base of the national army of Burkino Faso near the town of Koutougou left 24 dead.
- On September 8, twin attacks in Sanmatenga province in the north of the country left 29 people dead.
As Raymond Ibrahim, a Gatestone Institute distinguished senior fellow, recently wrote:
“The situation in Burkina Faso is a reminder that, if groups like the Islamic State are on the wane in Iraq and Syria, the jihad continues to spread like wildfire in more obscure and forgotten nations around the world, and to consume countless nameless and faceless innocents.”
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.