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Gunmen killed six people including a priest outside a Catholic church in Burkina Faso on Sunday, the government said, the second attack on Christians in two weeks in a country increasingly overrun by jihadists.

Congregants were leaving church around 9 a.m. in the town of Dablo in the Central North region when about twenty men encircled them and shot six dead, according to a government statement and local sources.

The attackers then burned the church, looted a pharmacy and some others stores, and left, Dablo mayor Ousmane Zongo told Reuters. The government statement only mentioned the burning of a shop and two vehicles.

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“These terrorist groups are now attacking religion with the macabre aim of dividing us,” it said.

Burkina Faso has been beset by a rise in attacks in 2019 as groups with links to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda based in neighbouring Mali seek to fuel local tensions and extend their influence over the porous borders of the Sahel, the arid scrubland south of the Sahara.

The government declared a state of emergency in several northern provinces bordering Mali in December because of deadly Islamist attacks.

But violence has only worsened since. Two French soldiers were killed in an operation to rescue four people taken hostage in Burkina last week, France said. More than 100,000 people in Burkina Faso have been displaced by the unrest this year, the United Nations said.

Roughly 55 per cent to 60 per cent of Burkina Faso’s population is Muslim, with up to a quarter Christian. The two groups generally live in peace and frequently intermarry.

Then, in late April, unidentified gunmen killed a pastor and five congregants at a Protestant church, also in the north, suggesting the violence was taking a religious turn.

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