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Military troops ride in a vehicle in central Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, following an Islamic extremist attack on March 2, 2018. (AP Photo/ Ludivine Laniepce)

A rash of attacks on churches in Burkina Faso is exposing the growing challenge of containing Islamist violence across Africa’s Sahel region.

On Sunday (May 12) militants attacked a Roman Catholic Church service in Dablo, a town about 200 kilometers north of Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, killing a 34-year-old Catholic priest and at least five worshippers. The priest, Rev. Simeon Yampa, died as he celebrated morning Mass.

An estimated 20 to 30 attackers fired on the fleeing congregation and then returned to set the church ablaze. They also burned down nearby shops and looted a local health center.

Archbishop Theophile Nare of the diocese of Kaya expressed pain at the deaths and appealed for peace, while paying tribute to the dead priest.

“Humble man obedient and full of love, he loved his parishioners who he served,” said Nare in a news release.

Two weeks earlier, the militants targeted a Protestant church in the town of Salgadiji, killing at least six people.

According to news reports, the militants had asked the Assemblies of God pastor and five others to convert to Islam before killing them. Earlier, four people had been killed in another attack in the same area.

“Some Christians who have lost their lives did not have the opportunity to be asked to convert,” said Rev. Leonard Tegwende Kinda, general secretary of the Association of Reformed Evangelical Churches in Burkina Faso.

“They have been checking the people’s necks and pockets for Christian crosses,” added Kinda.

Muslims, who make up more than 61 percent of the 20 million residents of Burkina Faso, have coexisted peacefully for years with the country’s Christians, mainly Catholics, who represent about 30 percent of the population. The Islamists seem to be attempting to destabilize the country by fomenting division.

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Source: Religion News Service