Extremist attacks have risen dramatically in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, from 180 incidents in 2017 to more than 800 violent attacks in 2019, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The rise in violence by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and the al-Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin led the U.S. Secretary of State to declare in November that the Sahel will be a “preferred area of focus” outside of the Middle East for the Defeat ISIS coalition.

Christians have been the target of number of such attacks in the Sahel this year. On December 1 gunmen attacked a Protestant service in Burkina Faso, killing 14 people, including several children.

“There is an ongoing persecution of Christians. For months, we bishops have been denouncing what is happening in Burkina Faso, but nobody is listening to us,” Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya told Aid to the Church in Need following the December attack.

More than 60 Christians have been killed in Burkina Faso alone in 2019, according to ACN.

Ten Catholics were murdered by gunmen in one week in May. During Mass, attackers shot and killed five men, including the priest, and then burned down the Catholic church in Dablo. The following day, gunmen killed four more Catholics during a religious procession and then burned the Marian statue.

The escalation in violence in Burkina Faso in 2019 led to the displacement of an estimated 486,000 people, the United Nations reports.

A CSIS report on the violence in Sahel published in December concluded that the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger are “ill-equipped” to confront the region’s security crisis.

Meanwhile, extremist factions in the Sahel have built a coalition and have expanded their reach with coordinated attacks across the region, according to CSIS.

“ISIS is outpacing the ability of regional governments and international partners to address that threat,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Nov. 14.

Bishop Kientega said Burkina Faso is experiencing an “unprecedented level of insecurity.”

Pope Francis has urged interreligious dialogue in Burkina Faso in response to the ongoing violence by jihadist groups after 38 people were killed and 60 injured in an attack on Canadian mining company convoy in November.

“I address a special thought to dear Burkina Faso, who for some time has been tried by recurrent violence,” the pope said. “I entrust to the Lord all the victims, the wounded, the numerous displaced persons and those who suffer from these tragedies. I appeal for the protection of the most vulnerable.”