BOULOUNGA, Burkina Faso (AP) —

At least 20 people were killed, injured or remain missing after attacks by extremist rebels on three villages in Burkina Faso’s Sahel region, the government announced.

The attacks occurred in Bombofa, Peteguerse, and Demniol towns, in Seno province and the army is searching the area, government spokesman Remis Fulgance Dandjinou said.

The victims were internally displaced people attacked on the road while trying to return to their villages, the Emir of Liptako Dicko Ousmane Amirou whose home is near the attacks, told The Associated Press on Friday. One of the victims was the son of a chief, he said.

“It’s concerning for everyone,” said Amirou. “The government no longer has a monopoly on security … It is only once security and justice are guaranteed that displaced people can be asked to return to their villages,” he said.

Burkina Faso’s army is struggling to stem jihadist violence that has spread across the country, killing almost 2,000 people so far this year and causing more than 1 million to flee their homes. This week’s attacks come after one last week in the Center-North region where extremist rebels killed 25 displaced people also trying to return home to collect their belongings, according to three survivors of the attacks.

The extremist violence has created a humanitarian crisis and civilians living in makeshift displacement sites in insecure areas say they are living in fear.

“I’m afraid of terrorists, I hear that they’re all around us,” Mariam Sawadogo told the AP during a visit to Boulounga village this week in the Center-North region where some 4,000 people have been displaced. The remote village is one of two towns where people have fled for safety in the hard-hit area.

As violence against communities increases, Burkina Faso experts warn that more empty villages could “potentially turn into new bases or harbors for jihadists, while the state keeps losing ground,” said Flore Berger, a Sahel analyst.