Around 170 people were “executed” in attacks on three villages in northern Burkina Faso a week ago, a regional prosecutor said on Sunday as religious violence flares in the junta-ruled country.

On that same day, February 25, separate attacks on a mosque in eastern Burkina and a Catholic church in the north left dozens more dead.

Aly Benjamin Coulibaly said he had received reports of the attacks on the villages of Komsilga, Nodin and Soroe in Yatenga province on February 25, with a provisional toll of “around 170 people executed”.

The attacks left others wounded and caused material damage, the prosecutor for the northern town of Ouahigouya added in a statement, without apportioning blame to any group.

He said his office ordered an investigation and appealed to the public for information.

Survivors of the attacks told AFP that dozens of women and young children were among the victims.

Local security sources said the attacks were separate from deadly incidents that happened on the same day at a mosque in the rural community of Natiaboani and a church in the village of Essakane.

Authorities have yet to release an official death toll for those attacks but a senior church official said at the time that at least 15 civilians were killed in that attack.

Burkina Faso has been grappling with a violent insurgency waged by rebels affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group that spilt over from neighbouring Mali in 2015.

The violence has killed almost 20,000 people and displaced more than two million in Burkina Faso, one of the world’s poorest countries situated in the Sahel, a region wracked by instability.

Anger at the state’s inability to end the insecurity played a major role in two military coups in 2022. Current strongman Ibrahim Traore has made the fight against rebel groups a priority.

‘Coordinated’ attacks

There were several attacks on February 25, notably against a military detachment in Tankoualou in the east, a rapid response battalion in Kongoussi in the north and soldiers in the northern region of Ouahigouya.

In response, the army and members of the Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland (VDP), a civilian force that supports the military, launched operations that were able “to neutralise several hundred terrorists”, according to security sources.

At the beginning of the week, Security Minister Mahamadou Sana described the wave of attacks as “coordinated”.

“This change in the enemy’s tactical approach is because terrorist bases have been destroyed as well as training camps and actions were carried out to dry up the enemy’s source of financing, as well as its supply corridors,” said Sana.

Mosques and imams have in the past been the target of attacks blamed on religious extremists.

Churches in Burkina have also at times been targeted and Christians have been kidnapped.

The ACLED analysis group says that 439 people were killed in such violence in January alone.

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