Gunmen kill six during Catholic mass in Burkina Faso

Gunmen killed a priest and five worshippers during mass on Sunday in an attack on a Catholic church in northern Burkina Faso.

The attackers - numbering between 20 and 30 - managed to trap some of the people inside then set fire to the church in the town of Dablo, about 200km from the capital Ouagadougou.

Several shops were also torched before they headed to the local health centre, which they looted and burned the chief nurse's vehicle.

"Towards 9am during mass armed individuals burst into the Catholic church," said the mayor of Dablo Ousmane Zongo. "They started firing as the congregation tried to flee."

"They killed five of them. The priest, who was celebrating mass, was also killed, bringing the number of dead to six.

Urbain Kabore, a government spokesman for the West African country's Sahel region, said the gunmen also destroyed all places serving alcohol.

'Ghost town'

Zongo said there was "an atmosphere of panic in the town". "People are holed up in their homes, nothing is going on. The shops and stores are closed. It's practically a ghost town," he said.

Security reinforcements were sent from Barsalogho, about 45km south of Dablo, and were combing the area.

The attack came two days after French special forces freed four foreign hostages in the north of the country in an overnight raid that cost the lives of two soldiers.

The operation was ordered to free French hostages Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas who disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in Benin on May 1.

The team also found two female captives, an American woman and a South Korean.

Hundreds killed

Sunday's church bloodshed came two weeks after a similar attack against a Protestant church in Silgadji, also in the north, when gunmen on motorbikes killed a pastor and several worshippers.

Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of armed groups - including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS) in the Greater Sahara.

Nearly 400 people have been killed since 2015 - mainly in hit-and-run raids, according to an AFP news agency tally.

Armed groups target both Muslim and Christian clerics, mainly in the north.

Former colonial ruler France has deployed some 4,500 troops in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in a mission codenamed Barkhane to help local forces try to flush out armed groups.