Catholics attend a church service at the cathedral of Our Lady of Kaya in the city of Kaya, Burkina Faso May 16, 2019. Picture taken May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Anne Mimault

August 05, 2019

Salafi-Jihadi Militants Target Christians in Burkina Faso

Salafi-jihadi militants with ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State are attacking Christians in Burkina Faso as part of a larger effort to destabilize the country and take control of Muslim communities.

Salafi-jihadi groups began an insurgency in northern Burkina Faso in 2016 and have used both coercion and persuasion to gain support from vulnerable populations—particularly the marginalized Fulani ethnic group—in the country’s north and east.[1] Attacks targeting Christians began in the spring of 2019. They have occurred largely in the country’s north and may now be spreading to the east.[2] These attacks are isolating Muslim populations by pressuring Christians to move from their villages to district centers,[3] punishing Muslims that aid Christians,[4] and threatening communities to dissuade support for security forces.[5] No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which have occurred in areas where multiple Salafi-jihadi groups operate.[6] Militants linked to Ansar al Islam or the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara are likely responsible. Jama’a Nusrat al Islam wa al Muslimeen, AQIM’s affiliate in the Sahel, also operates in this area but is less likely to attack churches because al Qaeda’s senior leadership discourages attacks on places of worship.[7]

These attacks may incite further backlash against Burkina Faso’s Fulani population, which Salafi-jihadi militants have exploited. Salafi-jihadi groups may also seek to incite widespread inter-faith conflict, though this outcome is less likely due to the prevalence of multi-faith communities and families in Burkina Faso.[8] Salafi-jihadi militancy in Burkina Faso grew out of the unresolved conflict in neighboring Mali and may spread to neighboring countries, like Ghana, Togo, and Benin, if drivers of instability remain unaddressed.[9]

Attacks on Christians in Burkina Faso in 2019

Last updated on August 5, 2019.

  • 15 FEB: Militants killed customs officials and a Catholic priest in Bittou, Boulgou Province. The attackers urged local militias to go away.[10]
  • 28 APR: Militants attacked a church during mass and killed six worshippers in Silgadji, Soum Province.[11]
  • 12 MAY: Militants killed a priest and five worshippers and in Dablo, Sanmatenga Province. They also burned a Catholic church and establishments serving alcohol.[12]
  • 13 MAY: Militants killed four Catholics at a procession in Singa, Bam Province.[13]
  • 26 MAY: Militants killed four Christians during a mass in Toulfe, Loroum Province.[14]
  • 27 JUN: Militants killed four Christians in Bani, Bam Province. They targeted individuals wearing Catholic symbols and those with Catholic names.[15]
  • 28 JUN: Militants threatened Christian villagers in Pougrenoma, Bam Province.[16]
  • 04 AUG: Militants killed three Christians in attacks on Protestant and Catholic churches in Tialboanga, Tapoa Province. This is the first attack of its kind in the Est Region.[17]

You can download the map layers as .kml files by expanding the map to full screen, clicking the dotted menu on the top left, and then download kml. Please notify us at CriticalThreats@AEI.org and MediaServices@AEI.org if you plan to publish this map and cite us as Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. Please include the original URL if possible.


[1] Emily Estelle, “How Ansar al Islam Gains Popular Support in Burkina Faso,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, May 9, 2019, https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/how-ansar-al-islam-gains-popular-support-in-burkina-faso.

[2] An attack on February 15 is anomalous because it occurred in southern Burkina Faso instead of in the main Salafi-jihadi area of operations in the north. It is included here because of the intentional targeting of a priest and because Salafi-jihadi groups operate along smuggling routes that cross Burkina Faso’s southern border.

[3] Samuel Smith, “19 killed by gunmen in Burkina Faso: ‘There’s no Christian anymore in this town’,” The Christian Post, June 14, 2019, https://www.christianpost.com/news/19-killed-by-gunmen-burkina-faso-theres-no-christian-anymore-in-this-town.html; and Nellie Peyton, “’Safe haven for fleeing families hit by attacks in Burkina Faso,” Reuters, May 16, 2019, http://news.trust.org/item/20190516133925-4kl0g/.

[4] Alex Thurston, “Escalating Violence in Burkina Faso is Outpacing the Government’s Response,” World Politics Review, May 31, 2019, https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/27901/escalating-violence-in-burkina-faso-is-outpacing-the-government-s-response; and Persecution, “Terrorists Kill Twenty Nine Christians in Two Attacks in Burkina Faso,” June 12, 2019, https://www.persecution.org/2019/06/12/terrorists-kill-twenty-nine-christians-two-attacks-burkina-faso/.

[5] Corrado Cok, “Burkina Faso: Front-line against Jihadism in West Africa,” Global Risk Insights, July 25, 2019, https://globalriskinsights.com/2019/07/burkina-faso-jihadism-west-africa/.

[6] Emily Estelle, “The Salafi-Jihadi Base in the Sahel: December 2018,” Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, December 19, 2018, https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/the-salafi-jihadi-base-in-the-sahel-december-2018.

[7] “Al-Qaeda calls Muslims to avenge New Zealand shootings but avoid targeting places of worship,” SITE Intelligence Group, English translation available at www.siteintelgroup.com.

[8] National Institute of Statistics and Demography, “Theme 2: Sociodemographic Characteristics,” December 2016, http://www.insd.bf/n/contenu/enquetes_recensements/ENESI/RapportENESI2015_Phase1_Theme2_Carateristiques_Sociodemographiques.pdf; and International Crisis Group, “Burkina Faso: Preserving the Religious Balance,” September, 2016, https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/burkina-faso/burkina-faso-preserving-religious-balance.

[9] Estelle, “How Ansar al Islam Gains Popular Support in Burkina Faso.”

[10] MENASTREAM, “Burkina Faso: Attack Against Customs Checkpoint in Nohao, Customs Officers and Spanish Priest Killed,” February 15, 2019, http://menastream.com/burkina-faso-attack-customs-spanish-priest/.

[11] BBC News, “Burkina Faso Christians killed in attack on church,” April 29, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-48094789.

[12] France 24, “Six killed in attack on Catholic Church in Burkina Faso,” May 12, 2019, https://www.france24.com/en/20190512-attack-catholic-church-burkina-faso-sahel; and Burkina Information Agency, “Burkina: Six Catholics killed in an attack on a church,” May 12, 2019, https://www.aib.media/2019/05/12/burkina-six-catholiques-tues-dans-lattaque-dune-eglise/.

[13] Garda World, “Burkina Faso: Gunmen attack religious procession in Bam province May 13,” May 14, 2019, https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/230356/burkina-faso-gunmen-attack-religious-procession-in-bam-province-may-13.

[14] French Press Agency, “4 killed in another attack on Catholic church in Burkina Faso,” Daily Sabah Africa, May 26, 2019, https://www.dailysabah.com/africa/2019/05/26/3-killed-in-another-attack-on-catholic-church-in-burkina-faso.

[15] Hortense Atifufu, “Catholics attacked again in Burkina Faso,” La Croix International, July 4, 2019, https://international.la-croix.com/news/catholics-attacked-again-in-burkina-faso/10458#.

[16] Jacques, “Burkina Faso: Four Christian Catholics executed in Bani in Bam,” Burkina Info, July 1, 2019, https://www.burkinainfo.com/2019/07/01/burkina-faso-quatre-chretiens-catholiques-executes-a-bani-dans-le-bam/.

[17] MENASTREAM, Twitter, August 4, 2019, https://twitter.com/MENASTREAM/status/1158096201893502976.

View Citations