When five assailants opened fire on the French embassy in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in March 2018, they were heard to cry the jihad's ancient war cry, "Allahu Akbar" ("Allah is the greatest."). Pictured: A street in Ouagadougou. (Image source: iStock)
Last Sunday, May 12, in the small West African nation of Burkina Faso, as many as 30 armed Islamic terrorists stormed a Catholic church, slaughtered at least six Christian worshippers — including the officiating priest — then burned the church to the ground.
Ousmane Zongo, the mayor of Dablo, where the attack occurred, recalled the incident:
"Towards 9:00am, during mass, armed individuals burst into the Catholic Church... They started firing as the congregation tried to flee.... They burned down the church, then shops and a small restaurant before going to the health centre where they searched the premises and set fire to the head nurse's vehicle.... The city is filled with panic. People are holed up at home. Shops and stores are closed. It's practically a ghost town."
Discussing the situation in the country — which is 60% Muslim, 23% Christian, and 17% animist or other — the BBC reports that "Jihadist violence has flared in Burkina Faso since 2016.... Fighters affiliated to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group as well as the local Ansarul Islam [Champions of Islam] have been active in the region."
Last Sunday's assault is, in fact, the third church attack in only five weeks. On Sunday, April 28, in Silgadji, Islamic terrorists stormed a Protestant church near the end of the service and killed six Christian worshippers, including the pastor, 80-year-old Pierre Oult, and his two sons. According to a local Christian:
"The assailants asked the Christians to convert to Islam, but the pastor and the others refused. They ordered them to gather under a tree and took their Bibles and mobile phones. Then they called them, one after the other, behind the church building where they shot them dead."
Considering the usual fate in store for Christians kidnapped in Burkina Faso, optimism is not warranted. For example, in February, Muslim terrorists abducted and murdered Antonio Cesar Fernandez, a 72-year-old Christian who had served as a missionary in Africa since 1982. Others — including Kirk Woodman, a Canadian — were also kidnapped and later found slaughtered.
The Islamic terrorists operating in Burkina Faso seem to be similar to other African jihadi groups, such as Nigeria's Boko Haram and Somalia's Al Shabaab. Like them, when not terrorizing churches and slaughtering Christians, they target anything else that might be associated with the West. According to one report:
"Much of the Islamic anger in Burkina Faso has to do with the teaching of so-called Western thoughts and ideals. Besides churches, schools are also a favorite target of the militants, who are pushing to make the country an Islamic state and impose Sharia Law... Of 2,869 schools in Burkina Faso, 1,111 have been closed in the last three years as a direct result of Islamic extremist violence."
"A lot of schools have been torched," elaborated one head teacher whose own school was set ablaze in the town of Foubé.
As with other African Islamic terror groups, the motivating ideology fueling the terrorists of Burkina Faso is distinctly Islamic and jihadi in nature. For example, after eight Muslims were arrested for their role in terrorist attacks that killed 14, their prosecutor said, "they all carried on their foreheads or had white bands on which were written in Arabic the following expression — translated as — 'there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger.'"
Similarly, when they opened fire on the French embassy in Ouagadougou, the five assailants were heard to cry the jihad's ancient war cry, "Allahu Akbar" ("Allah is the greatest.").
Needless to say, such clear indicators of motive have not caused the establishment to revise its narrative. When interviewed on last Sunday's church carnage, Sten Hagberg, a Swedish professor of anthropology at Uppsala University, offered the usual fare: The attack, he said, "has, to my mind, much more to do with politics and economics than religion."
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.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.