OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Gunmen killed at least 24 people, including a pastor, in an attack on a church during Sunday Mass in northwestern Burkina Faso, four security sources said on Monday.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack, but jihadist groups with links to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are seeking to gain control over rural areas of Burkina Faso by exacerbating ethnic and religious conflict.
Hundreds of people have died over the past year, and more than half a million have fled their homes.
The timing of the shooting, during a church service in the village of Pansi in the Yagha region, mirrors other recent attacks on Christians, including assaults on churches and the assassinations of pastors and priests.
The violence is threatening to upend peaceful relations in Burkina Faso between the majority Muslim population and Christians, who represent up to a quarter of the people in the country.
Armed assailants “attacked the peaceful residents of this area after identifying them and separating them from nonresidents,” the government said in a statement on Monday.
Eight people were injured in the attack and an unknown number were kidnapped, the government said, adding that a pastor was among the dead. The statement did not indicate that the attack occurred in a church during Mass.
Muslims have also been the targets of violence in the past year. In October, gunmen stormed a mosque during Friday Prayer and killed 15 people.
Attacks by jihadist groups have surged in the past year in Burkina Faso and across the broader Sahel region, an arid expanse of scrubland south of the Sahara.
They have worked to sow ethnic tensions between farming and herding communities in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in order to increase their recruitment among marginalized communities.
The number of people displaced by the conflict increased tenfold in 2019, to more than 560,000, making it the world’s fastest-growing displacement crisis, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.