Suspected extremists in Burkina Faso targeted passengers traveling on the highway between the capital city of Ouagadougou and the northern town of Djibo in September. The insurgents separated Christians from Muslims and asked the Christians to pay jizya—a tax for non-Muslims in a Muslim territory—worth $34, according to Edward Clancy, director of outreach with Aid to the Church in Need.
Despite the country’s history of religious tolerance, insurgent attacks against Christians and other locals have increased in the impoverished northern region of Burkina Faso, a landlocked West African nation. Aid groups active in the country continue to raise concerns about the violence, which they say reminds them of the start of the terror group Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria.
On Oct. 28, armed extremists stormed the northern village of Pobe-Mengao and killed 16 people after villagers refused to help them buy weapons. Earlier in the month, several unconnected assaults over four days left at least 19 people dead.
Attacks have killed more than 500 people since last year and displaced nearly 500,000 others, the United Nations reported. The conflict has shut down more than 2,000 schools in the region, leaving 330,000 children without access to education. As many as 68 hospitals that served more than 800,00 people also closed.
Burkina Faso’s porous borders with conflict-hit Mali and Niger have granted access to groups such as the Macina Liberation Front, the al-Qaeda-linked Jama’t Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimin, and Islamic State. In September, Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack in the northern Soum province that killed 24 Burkinabe soldiers.
In a statement released at the end of September, the Burkinese Federation of Evangelical Churches and Missions listed at least five pastors and missionaries murdered by terrorists. “The terrorist groups are trying to weaken the values of unity, solidarity, secularism, and social cohesion that are the foundations of Burkinabe society,” the statement read.
Philip Matheny, the missions director with the U.S.-based Sheltering Wings mission group, said the unrest also has affected how Christian aid workers operate in the country. “Many have benefitted from security training, which has been informative on how to lower their risk as well as the risk of the national partners with whom they work,” he wrote.
Locals reported more than 200 church closures in the northern part of the country due to the unrest, said Illia Djadi, a senior analyst with Open Doors. Like Boko Haram, he said, the Burkina Faso insurgent groups target symbols of the state, including security officials and schools, while also attacking those considered moderate Muslims. During Friday prayers on Oct. 11, militants attacked a mosque in the northern village of Salmossi and killed at least 16 people.
In response, self-defense groups and militias are rising up. The Assessment Capacities Project, a Norwegian nonprofit organization providing international humanitarian analysis, said last week it expects the conflict to worsen over the next six months.