The attackers opened fire on the faithful at the beginning of Mass in the village of Dablo, 90 km from Kaya, according to FRANCE 24’s sister radio station, RFI.

« Towards 9:00am, during mass, armed individuals burst into the Catholic Church, » the mayor of Dablo, Ousmane Zongo, told AFP. « They started firing as the congregation tried to flee. »

The attack is believed to have been carried out by a « group of some twenty to thirty armed men », according to a security source.

« They burned down the church, then shops and a small restaurant before going to the health centre where they searched the premises and set fire to the head nurse’s vehicle, » Mr. Zongo said. « The city is filled with panic. People are holed up at home. Shops and stores are closed. It’s practically a ghost town. »

The government confirmed the toll of six included, including a priest, and condemning the « barbaric and cowardly attack ».

After « failing to pit communities against each other with targeted killings of traditional chiefs and community leaders, terrorist groups are now attacking religion in an evil plot to divide us », it said in a statement.

The attack comes two days after the release of four hostages in northern Burkina Faso by French special forces in a daring night-time raid.

Frenchmen Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, and Patrick Picque, 51, were seized by kidnappers in Benin’s Pendjari National Park, near the border with Burkina Faso, on May 1.

Intelligence agencies tracked their captors across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso, where it appeared they would soon cross the border into Mali.

Officials feared the hostages would be handed over to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM), a jihadist group formed in 2015 that is aligned with al Qaeda in the region. Macron gave the order for the nighttime raid on the militants’ camp on Thursday.

Burkina Faso has witnessed increasingly frequent and deadly terrorist attacks over the past four years, attributed to jihadist groups such as Ansarul Islam, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (EIGS).

Sunday’s attack is the second assault on a Catholic church since the terrorist attacks in the country began in 2015.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned Sunday’s attack and offered condolences as he cited « the sanctity of all places of worship », according to a UN spokesman.

Guterres « urges all citizens of Burkina Faso to stand firmly with one another across communities and not to succumb to efforts to sow discord and breed further violence ».