Attacks by Islamic State and al Qaeda militants in Burkina Faso have quadrupled since 2017. Over 70,000 people have fled their homes this year.
Recently, gunmen in northern Burkina Faso surrounded a group of people outside, found four Christians wearing crosses, and executed them.
Greg Musselman with The Voice of the Martyrs Canada says this sudden rise of extremism in the West African country, while not unprecedented, is rather surprising.
“It’s not been on our radar in terms of the Voice of the Martyrs and ministries that work with persecuted Christians. So there has been some surprise I guess in some ways that this generally peaceful nation where Christians, Muslims, religious people, and those that maybe don’t believe all get along pretty well.
“It’s just been the quick acceleration, especially now directly attacking Christians, looking for religious symbols as they go into the communities and attacking churches and really trying to bring division between the Muslims and Christians and it’s kind of that ‘divide and conquer’ mentality.”
The roots of extremism in Burkina Faso can be traced back, in part, to the fall of Libya in 2011. Militants started to trickle into neighboring countries like Mali and eventually Burkina Faso, bringing their weapons and violence with them.
While the rest of the world was focused on a surging extremist movement in East and Central Africa, the seeds of militant Islam in West Africa were being quietly sown.
“I think we weren’t watching and then all of a sudden, we see…in a year that the violence against Christians has quadrupled. Then as they’re starting to investigate, they’re finding it’s a lot of homegrown terrorists who have received training in places like Afghanistan,” Musselman says.
So far, the majority of Burkinabe people killed by extremists were Muslim.
“It’s not that they were so much targeting Christians at the beginning,” Musselman explains. “They’re targeting anybody that gets in their way. But as they move into these places, they start to identify the Christians, where the churches are, people wearing any kind of jewelry like a cross where they can identify them as Christian, then they directly attack them.”
For believers who want to help, Musselman says you can advocate by asking your government representatives what is being done to protect persecuted Christians in Burkina Faso.
“Church leaders are coming out and saying, ‘We need help and if something doesn’t happen, Christians will be driven out or at least going into hiding and the Church will have less of an impact in that part of West Africa.’”
Musselman says VOM Canada will likely strengthen connections with Church leaders in Burkina Faso in light of the persecution spike.
“Often it’s in these difficult situations where people tend to be more open to Jesus. But…Christians that have lived in peaceful environments and then this happens, they don’t really have a grit to [endure] that kind of persecution.”
He emphasizes, “We need to be praying that they will have wisdom…and that this divide that the Islamists are trying to put between peaceful, moderate Muslims and Christians would not fester.”