Armed men have stormed a mosque in Burkina Faso as worshippers were praying inside, killing at least 16 people and sending residents fleeing, security sources said.
The attack took place at the Grand Mosque in the northern village of Salmossi on Friday evening in the Oudalan region bordering Mali.
One source told AFP news agency that 13 people died on the spot and three succumbed to their injuries later. Two of the wounded were in critical condition.
“Since this morning, people have started to flee the area,” a resident of the nearby town of Gorom-Gorom told AFP.
He said there was a “climate of panic, despite military reinforcements” that were deployed after the deadly attack.
A security source and a local official told Reuters news agency about 15 people were killed in the attack.
The identities of the gunmen were not yet clear.
The groups, who crossed into Burkina Faso from neighbouring Mali, have ignited ethnic and religious tensions, especially in northern regions.
Combining guerrilla hit-and-run tactics with road mines and suicide bombings, the fighters have killed nearly 600 people, according to a toll compiled by AFP. Civil society groups put the number at more than 1,000, with attacks taking place on almost a daily basis.
Almost 500,000 people have fled their homes because of the violence, according to the United Nations refugee agency, which has warned of a humanitarian crisis affecting 1.5 million people.
Almost 3,000 schools have closed and the impact on an overwhelmingly rural economy is escalating, disrupting trade and markets. Last week, 20 people were killed in an attack by gunmen on a gold-mining site in the north.
Meanwhile, Burkina Faso’s defence and security forces are badly equipped, poorly trained and have proven unable to put a halt to the increasing violence. France has a force of 200 in the country but also intervenes frequently as part of its regional Barkhane operation.
Although hit by violence, many Burkinabes oppose the presence of foreign troops on their territory.
On Saturday, a crowd of about 1,000 people marched in the capital Ouagadougou “to denounce terrorism and the presence of foreign military bases in Africa”.
“Terrorism has now become an ideal pretext for installing foreign military bases in our country,” Gabin Korbeogo, one of the co-organisers of the march told AFP.
“The French, American, Canadian, German and other armies have set foot in our sub-region, saying they want to fight terrorism. But despite this massive presence… the terrorist groups… are growing stronger.”