As many as 160 civilians, including children, were killed and 40 others wounded in a violent raid on a village in Burkina Faso, marking the African country’s deadliest attack in years.
Jihadists assaulted and shot civilians, and burned down homes and the market in Solhan village in the Sahel country's Yagha province on the night of June 4, according to The Associated Press. Yagha is in northeastern Burkina Faso and borders Niger.
Hundreds of people fled to a nearby town to escape.
No group has claimed responsibility, but terrorism analysts have predicted the attack was likely carried out by al-Qaeda-linked group Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, which has strengthened its presence in the troubled Sahel region.
The attacks were allegedly a response to volunteer fighters in the area who fight alongside the Army as community volunteers, which makes their area a more significant target.
The attack comes as Burkina Faso's military has struggled to stifle the exponential rise of Islamic extremism that has taken root in recent years and displaced thousands of people.
Agence France-Presse reports the military had virtually deserted the area in recent months.
After the attack, Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore called for three days of national mourning, condemning the civilian slaughter as “barbaric” and “despicable.”
The U.N.'s Peacebuilding Commission released a statement Monday saying that it's "profoundly saddened by the killing of over 160 civilians" by "unidentified armed assailants in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso."
“Echoing statements issued earlier by the United Nations secretary-general, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, and other friends and partners of Burkina Faso, the commission condemns in the strongest terms the atrocious attack and expresses heartfelt condolences to the families who lost their loved ones, to the people and to the government of Burkina Faso,” the statement continued.
“In the face of this attack and other recent grave incidents that jeopardize peacebuilding and development gains, the commission calls for strengthening the bonds of solidarity and intensifying support to Burkina Faso and the Sahel region. It underlines the need to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Like many neighboring countries, Burkina Faso faces a security crisis due to armed raids and kidnappings across the region.
The U.N. estimates that more than 1.1 million people are internally displaced in Burkina Faso. According to the U.N., clashes between armed groups and security forces and attacks against communities prompted further displacement in recent months in northern and eastern Burkina Faso.
A spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general said he is “outraged” by the killing and “strongly condemns the heinous attack and underscores the urgent need for the international community to redouble support to member states in the fight against violent extremism and its unacceptable human toll.”
This deadly attack in the middle of the night gave citizens no time to seek safety, a source said.
“The slaughter of over 100 civilians, the highest number of casualties from a single attack in recent years in Burkina Faso, marks a shocking escalation in the violence that has engulfed the country since 2015," Manenji Mangundu, country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Burkina Faso, said in a statement.
"Killed in the middle of the night by armed assailants, the victims include women and children who were given no choice to flee, no chance to live."
Open Doors USA’s World Watch List ranks Burkina Faso at No. 32 among countries where Christians face the most severe persecution due to a “very high” level of Islamic oppression.
Out of Burkina Faso’s population of 20.9 million, around 4.9 million are Christian, and many Christians in the country are internally displaced persons.
“Attacks on both Muslim and Christian houses of worship and religious leaders have spiked as jihadist and other militia groups expand their area of influence throughout the country,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stated in a report last year. “The government is struggling to rein in the violence, and poor performance and misconduct by government-affiliated forces are exacerbating the situation.”
Suspected jihadists in Burkina Faso killed 15 Christians at a baptism ceremony last month.
In March, over 130 people were killed in a series of suspected Islamic extremist raids in neighboring Niger.
Emily Wood is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org