Ouagadougou (AFP) - Gunmen killed four Catholics in a religious procession in northern Burkina Faso a day after a priest and five parishioners were murdered at mass, church officials said Tuesday.
The parade with a statue of the Virgin Mary was moving through the town of Ouahigouya on Monday when "a group of terrorists intercepted the procession, killing four worshippers and burning the statue," said a spokesman for the Ouagadougou Cathedral.
According to the Burkina Faso news agency AIB, the assailants stopped the procession. "They let the minors go, executed four adults, and destroyed the statue," it quoted a local person as saying.
Paul Ouedraogo, president of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger, told a meeting of bishops in the capital Ouagadougou the attack had claimed four lives.
The killings came a day after a group of 20-30 armed men, according to witnesses, burst into the Catholic church in Dablo, also in the Nord Region of Burkina Faso, shooting dead five parishioners and their priest.
The attackers set fire to the church, several shops and a small cafe before heading to the health centre, which they looted, burning the chief nurse's vehicle.
Two days earlier, French special forces had freed four foreign hostages in Burkina Faso during an overnight raid that cost the lives of two soldiers.
"This concerns all of us whatever our religion or ethnicity," said President Roch Marc Christian Kabore.
- "Stick together" -
Kabore urged his compatriots to "stick together," warning such attacks threatened to undermine religious coexistence in a country where some two thirds of the population are Muslim to one third Christian.
"Burkina Faso is confronted by a difficult situation," said Kabore. "These terrorists have remodelled their modus operandi. First, by creating inter-communcal conflicts and today inter-religious conflicts as Christians have been killed for their faith, for merely practising their religion.
"Burkina has always been reputed as being a tolerant country. We must work to safeguard this richness passed down to us by our ancestors," said Kabore, a Catholic.
Two weeks ago, there was a similar attack against a Protestant church in Silgadji, also in the north, when gunmen on motorbikes killed a pastor and five worshippers.
Burkina has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
The raids began in 2015 in the north before targeting the capital Ouagadougou and other regions, notably in the east.
Nearly 400 people have been killed since 2015 -- mainly in hit-and-run raids -- according to an AFP tally.
Jihadist groups target Christian clerics as well as Muslim ones they do not consider sufficiently radical in a country where traditionally both religions have co-existed peaceably.
Last month, jihadists attacked a village school in Maitaougou, in the eastern province of Koulpelogo, killing five teachers and a municipal worker.
Former colonial ruler France has deployed 4,500 troops in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in a mission codenamed Barkhane to help local forces flush out jihadists.