Burkina Faso church attack leaves at least 15 dead

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

At least 15 people have been reported dead after an attack on a Catholic church in Burkina Faso on Sunday. 

The attack happened in Essakane village, in Oudalan province. The area lies close to Burkina Faso's border with Mali in the north-east of the country.

The BBC reports that gunmen carried out the attack during a Sunday service at the church.

Abbot Jean-Pierre Sawadogo said that 12 people were killed instantly and another three died later in hospital. 

According to the report, it is suspected that the gunmen were Islamist militants. 

Churches have been increasingly targeted in Burkina Faso as Islamist groups with links to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have taken hold of parts of the country. 

Burkina Faso ranks 20th in the Open Doors World Watch List of top 50 countries where Christians suffer the worst persecution owing to the spread of Islamic extremism, political instability and widespread displacement.

There are an estimated 5.3 million Christians in the country, out of a total population of just under 24 million.

"Burkina Faso used to be the epitome of religious cohesion, but Islamic militant influence has managed to erode much of the peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians," said Open Doors.