Gunmen kill 24 near Burkina Faso church as attacks against Christians increasing 'at alarming rate'

Human rights advocates fear attacks against Christians are increasing “at an alarming rate” in Burkina Faso following a weekend assault that left 24 dead, including a pastor.

Roughly 20 attackers separated men from women near a Protestant church in Pansi on Sunday before killing Christians and Muslims and setting the building on fire, officials in the West African country announced Monday.

"Perpetrators use victims’ links to government or their faith to justify the killings, while others appear to be reprisal killings for killings by the government security forces," Corinne Dufka, the region’s director for Human Rights Watch, told the Associated Press.

She added analysts are worried that attacks against civilians, including against Christians, are increasing there "at an alarming rate."

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Last week in Yagha province – where Sunday’s assault occurred -- a retired pastor was killed and another pastor was abducted by gunmen, according to an internal security report for aid workers seen by The Associated Press.

More than 1,300 civilians were killed in targeted attacks last year in Burkina Faso, more than seven times the previous year, said the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which collects and analyzes conflict information.

The insecurity has created a humanitarian crisis. More than 760,000 people are internally displaced, the government adds.

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In Sunday’s violence, the gunmen also injured 18 others, looted oil and rice from shops and forced three youth they kidnapped to help transport it on their motorbikes, according to Sihanri Osangola Brigadie, the mayor of Boundore commune.

“It hurt me when I saw the people," Brigadie said after visiting some of the victims in the hospital in Dori town, 110 miles from the attack.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.