A terrorist attack in Burkina Faso has killed 35 civilians, almost all of them women in one of the deadliest assaults to hit the West African country in nearly five years of violence.

According to the Burkinabe military, seven soldiers and 80 armed fighters were also killed in the double attack on a military base and Arbinda town in Soum province, located in the northern region of the country.

In a statement, the country’s communications minister and government spokesman, Remis Dandjinou said 31 of the civilian victims were women.

“A large group of terrorists simultaneously attacked the military base and the civilian population in Arbinda. The heroic action of our soldiers has made it possible to neutralize 80 terrorists,” the statement said.

Reacting to the attacks, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore described it as  barbaric and cancelled all Christmas celebrations to show compassion with the population.

“People, women for the most part, were getting water and got murdered in cold blood by the terrorists while they were retreating,” President Kabore said.

He added: “We must show compassion with the population, that is why all flags will fly at half-mast for two days and all Christmas celebrations are cancelled.”

Islam is the dominant religion in Burkina Faso, a country of about 20 million people but there is a sizeable Christian minority of about 20 percent.

The morning raid was carried out by dozens of fighters on motorbikes and lasted several hours before troops, backed by the air force drove the attackers back.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but previous violence in Burkina Faso has been blamed on fighters linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL groups.