A pastor and five churchgoers were murdered by gunmen while leaving their church in the West African nation of Burkina Faso on Sunday.
On Monday, government officials reported that the six people were killed in a Protestant Church in the northern part of the country in the village of Silgadji.
Spokesperson Remy Fulgance Dandjinou told media that Sunday’s attack is the first to target a church in Burkina Faso, which has recently seen an uptick in Islamic extremist violence.
Although Burkina Faso is a majority-Muslim country (60 percent), religious groups have largely coexisted peacefully there.
A security source who spoke with Al Jazeera explained that "unidentified armed individuals” attacked the Protestant church. Although different extremists groups are known to operate in Burkina Faso and neighboring Mali, no group has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack in Silgadji as of Tuesday afternoon.
"The attack happened around 1 p.m. just as the faithful were leaving the church at the end of the service," one unnamed member of the church told Al Jazeera. “The attackers were on motorbikes. They fired in the air before aiming at the members of the congregation."
Rinaldo Depagne, the West Africa Project Director at International Crisis Group, an NGO that researches violent conflicts, told Reuters that armed groups have “every interest in troubling or going against the good understanding between religions” in Burkina Faso.
“We have observed this strategy in other countries in the region and in the world,” Depagne stressed.
Thomas Murphy, an intelligence analyst at The Risk Advisory Group, told The Nationalthat the group Ansarul Islam is the “most active” terror group in the northern part of Burkina Faso. However, he noted that they tend to carry out kidnappings and assassinations.
Additionally, Al-Qaeda-linked militants in neighboring Mali have in recent months conducted various attacks in Mali, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, including an attack on a Malian military base in March that killed 23 soldiers.
Experts warned last year that Burkina Faso could become the “next foothold” for a group of soldiers that split from the Al Qaeda-linked affiliate group in Mali to attack troops and civilians.
Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the so-called caliph of the Islamic State, accepted oaths of allegiance from leaders of IS affiliates in Burkina Faso and neighboring Mali in a video that surfaced on Monday.
The video is purported to be the first time in five years the Islamic State leader appeared in a video. Baghdadi, born to the name Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, congratulated affiliates on the two countries for their “enrollment in the ranks of the caliphate.”
Murphy told The National that Burkina Faso has featured more prominently in Islamic State propaganda in recent months and suggested that it could be a “credible” thought that the attack on the church in Silgadji was carried out by IS-aligned militants.
The attack in Burkina Faso comes just days after the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings targeting churches and Christians celebrating Easter at hotels in Sri Lanka that killed 253 and injured over 500. The suicide bombings were carried out by extremists affiliated with the local Islamic group National Thowheeth Jama'ath, believed to have affiliation with the Islamic State.
The attack on the church in Burkina Faso also comes just days after five teachers and a municipal were killed in the Koulpelogo province by armed jihadists.
In January 2016, 28 were killed during an attack on a coffee shop in Ouagadougou that was said to have been carried out by Al-Qaeda-linked militants. Among the dead was American missionary Michael Riddering.
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