BUJUMBURA, Burundi — At least 26 people were killed and seven others wounded in an attack in a rural area of Burundi, the country’s security minister said on Saturday, calling it the work of a “terrorist group” that he did not identify.
The minister, Alain Guillaume Bunyoni, told reporters that 24 people had been killed in their homes Friday night and that two others had died of their wounds at a hospital.
He gave no further details about the attack, which occurred in the Ruhagarika community of the rural northwestern province of Cibitoke.
The attack came shortly before Burundians were scheduled to vote, on Wednesday, in a controversial referendum that could extend the presidential term of office. It was not immediately clear if the attack was related.
One survivor said in an interview that the assailants had arrived around 10 p.m. local time, attacking households and setting houses on fire. Some victims were hacked with machetes and others were shot or burned alive, she said.
Her husband and two children were killed, she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because she feared for her safety.
The East African country has seen deadly political violence since early 2015; an estimated 1,200 people died. Later that year, President Pierre Nkurunziza successfully won a disputed third term.
Now, Burundians are being asked to vote on a proposal to extend the president’s term to seven years from five, which would allow Mr. Nkurunziza to rule for another 14 years after his current term expires in 2020.
Campaigns ahead of the referendum have been marred by hate speech, with one ruling party official sent to prison after he called for those who opposed the referendum to be drowned.
The United States earlier this month denounced “violence, intimidation and harassment” against those thought to oppose the referendum, and expressed concern about the “nontransparent process” of changing the Constitution.
Human Rights Watch has noted “widespread impunity” for the authorities and their allies, including the ruling party’s youth wing, as they try to swing the vote in the president’s favor.
Many in Burundi, a poor country that still relies heavily on foreign aid, worry that a new round of bloodshed will follow the referendum whatever its results.
Already, more than 400,000 people have fled the country since the political unrest began in April 2015, according to the United Nations.
Mr. Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, rose to power in 2005 after the end of a civil war that killed about 300,000 people. He was re-elected unopposed in 2010 after the opposition boycotted. He said he was eligible for a third term in 2015 because lawmakers, not the general population, had chosen him for his first term.